CALGARY -- Veterinarians now have a new, simple tool — co-developed by a Calgary veterinary researcher — to assess pain in cats.

The Feline Grimace Scale assesses a cat's facial expression to determine how much pain it is feeling.

"We’ve known historically that cats are difficult to identify pain in and difficult to manage pain in," said Dr. Daniel Pang, Associate Professor, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Calgary and the co-author of the Cat Grimace Scale Study. "Because of that, we thought 'Is there a simple, user friendly accessible way to identify pain in cats?'."

The scale assesses five features; the position of the cat’s ears, head, whiskers, whether its eyes are open or closed, and muzzle tension.

"This is a useful tool but also a very practical tool because it doesn't take very long to use. We hope that people will adopt it and start to use it in their own clinics."

Pang said cats are often undertreated for pain.

"If it's hard for us as veterinarians to identify them being in pain, it then becomes very, very difficult to decide what to do about what's going on, which means, historically, we know that cats receive less pain relief than dogs."

The scale measures whether there are signs of pain including; ears flattened and rotated outward, squinted eyes, whiskers that are bunched together, if the cat’s muzzle is tense and their head lowered. The scores will help veterinarians determine if pain relief should be considered. 

“This is hugely important because a lot of what we do as veterinarians is assessing how our animals are feeling in terms of comfort especially if they’re coming in with a disease process that might be painful like inflammation of their pancreas or intestines or if we’re performing a surgery,” said Pang.

The research project was conducted while Pang was at Université de Montréal. Pang along with the study’s co-author and a PhD student assessed 50 cats over a four to six month period.

Pang said other ways of assessing pain in cats exist but they often are time consuming and require multiple steps.

"We have something really simple to apply and its really quick to apply as well."

The scale is meant for veterinary care professionals, Pang said it's not known yet if it would work for cat owners at home.

"We don’t know until we try it and test it but in theory it should work really well for cat owners."

The scale is available in a downloadable training manual.