Feline Grimace Scale to determine pain

Cats are notorious for hiding their pain. But despite this tendency to suffer in silence, the feline face speaks volumes about the pain it’s feeling.

Veterinary researchers recently published a paper in Scientific Reports on the Feline Grimace Scale, a fast, easy way of assessing a cat’s facial expressions to help determine how much pain it is feeling.

The scale assesses five features: the position of the cat’s ears, head, and whiskers, whether its eyes are open or closed (orbital tightening), and muzzle tension. “All of these things reflect whether there's tension in the face,” says Dr. Daniel Pang, PhD, associate professor of anesthesia and analgesia at the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine (UCVM). Pang, along with Dr. Paulo Steagall, PhD, was co-author of the study and co-supervisor of the study’s lead author, Marina Evangelista, a PhD student at the Université de Montréal.

New tool to help patients who can’t tell you if they hurt

The study compared the new grimace scale with a more complex pain assessment scale in dozens of cats that were brought into the Université de Montréal’s veterinary hospital in acute pain, and subsequently given pain medication. “We were able to show that the scale we'd developed worked as well, and was as sensitive, as the more complicated scale,” says Pang.

The Feline Grimace Scale measures the absence or presence of signs of pain including ears flattened and rotated outward, squinted eyes, whiskers that are bunched together, and if the cat’s muzzle is tense and their head is lowered. Each of the five facial indicators is given a score of zero (sign absent), one (moderate sign) or two (obvious sign). The study also determined a threshold score, above which cats are more likely to be in pain and analgesia pain relief should be considered.

The researchers hope their new diagnostic tool will help veterinarians and other veterinary care professionals identify and treat cats suffering acute pain. The published paper includes a downloadable training manual. 

“Now we have something so you walk up to the cat, look at it and you make your assessment within seconds. It's got the attractive features of being tested, practical, and it takes advantage of the fact that we're familiar with them and their little faces anyway. So why not make the most of it?” says Pang.

Source: University of Calgary

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