Feline OK? The app that tells you if your cat’s happy

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Cat owners who love to take pictures of their furry friends now have a new excuse to whip out their smartphone and snap a photo: it can actually help the cat.

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Sylvester.ai, a Calgary-based animal health technology company, has developed an app called Table that uses the phone’s camera to detect if a cat is in pain.

The app examines the ear and head position, the narrowing of the eyes, the muzzle tension and the change in whiskers in order to detect complaints. A 2019 study published in the journal Scientific Reports found that the Feline Grimace Scale (FGS) is a valid and reliable tool for assessing acute pain in cats.

“It helps human cat owners know if their cat is in pain or not,” said Miche Priest, Sylvester.ai’s Venture Lead. “We were able to train a machine with machine learning and a series of images.”

The app could help young vets, said Dr. Liz Ruelle from the Wild Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary, where the developers trained the algorithm.

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“I love working with cats, I’ve always grown up with cats,” she says. “For other colleagues, first-year students who may not have that much experience, it can be very daunting to know – does your patient hurt?”

An app that learns patterns from pictures of cat’s faces can be helpful, but cat owners should also look at their pet’s entire body, including the tail, for clues about their well-being, said Alice Potter of the UK animal rights group RSPCA.

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“Cats that are worried or frightened hold that tail very tightly and cling to it. Aside from that, do you even think of their behavior in relation to eating, drinking, using the toilet, sleeping, as they normally do? “