Thankfully vets are getting better at deciding if a cat is in pain. Back in the old days they didn’t really consider it. Although there are behavioural signs which are discussed on this site, a more practical and efficient method of measuring cat pain is through a range of facial expressions. This is the Grimace Scale.
The Grimace Scale has been developed for various species including rabbits. I seems that relying on an animal’s facial expression to measure pain was initially developed in animal testing laboratories because they have a pressing need to measure pain. They want to know if the products they are testing cause pain. It is a bad place from which to figure out if animals show pain in facial expressions but at least it helped develop the Grimace Scale.
Dr Daniel Pang is the co-author of the Feline Grimace Scale. He explains in the video how veterinarians in the past have struggled to assess pain in companion animals.
Veterinarians have had a hard time measuring pain, especially in cats — Dr. Daniel Pang, associate professor of anesthesia and analgesia at the University of Calgary.
A scale of facial expressions is more specific which helps cut out some of the guesswork in assessing feline pain. It is a combination of ear position (rotated outwards, flattened or erect), eyes (closed, squinting or open and relaxed), whiskers (bunched together), muzzle and the position of their head, which allows an assessment to be made more efficiently.
A poll carried out by the Calgary Herald asked visitors to their website (presumed cat owners): Does your cat show pain or stress in its facial expressions? The results below tell us that most people can tell from facial expressions but a good percentage cannot.
Comment: Precision in assessing pain in cats at veterinary clinics or indeed at home by the owner must be of great benefit to cats. It appears to me that measuring pain through facial expressions is more precise than through previous methods e.g. behaviour, demeanour, body language and position. An example would be shedding fur faster than normal. This may be a sign of stress but it also might signal a skin condition. This is an example of the imprecision issues referred to by Dr Pang, which his Grimace Scale is designed to address.
SOME MORE ON CAT PAIN: