Cat caregivers worldwide would agree that being able to tell when a cat is in pain is extremely important to them from a health and welfare perspective, but that it’s not always easy.
After all, signs of pain can be subtle in this species and have historically been under-recognised, even by veterinarians.
As a result, scientifically validated assessment tools have now been developed by veterinarians and feline behaviour experts to reliably assess pain in cats. One of these is the Feline Grimace Scale (FGS) which uses facial expressions to assess signs of acute pain (pain that lasts for a short period, for example, after surgery or a recent injury) in cats.
So, could cat caregivers reliably use the Feline Grimace Scale too? A recently published study set out to answer that question…
Between March and May 2021, over 1,500 cat caregivers from 66 countries responded to an online survey (available in both English and Spanish) advertised by International Cat Care and across other platforms. Participants were over the age of 18, must have cared for or owned a cat and could not be veterinary professionals or students. Caregivers had to use the Feline Grimace Scale to score ten images of cats in varying degrees of pain, the results of which were compared to the FGS scores assigned by experienced veterinarians.
The Feline Grimace scale uses five ‘action units’ – ear position, orbital (eye) tightening, muzzle tension, whiskers change and head position, each of which is assigned a score from zero (absent) to two (obviously present) to make up a highest possible final score of ten. A score of four or higher suggests the cat is showing signs of pain.
The study revealed that most of the action unit scores assigned to the images were not significantly different between cat caregivers and veterinarians, except for muzzle tension. This difference, however, did not affect the overall reliability of cat caregivers when assigning the total FGS score. The study also suggested that demographic variables, such as age or gender, did not affect the ability of caregivers to reliably assess pain using the FGS.
This exciting new research demonstrates that the Feline Grimace Scale could be a useful tool to help caregivers to recognise and assess acute pain in cats and seek veterinary advice early.
The Feline Grimace Scale website is available here: https://www.felinegrimacescale.com/ and as an app.
The full article is available to read open access here:
Reference: Monteiro BP, Lee NHY and Steagall PV. Can cat caregivers reliably assess acute pain in cats using the Feline Grimace Scale? A large bilingual global study. J Feline Med Surg, 2023; https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/epdf/10.1177/1098612X221145499