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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.
Sylvester.ai, an animal health technology company based in Calgary, Alberta, has developed an app called Table that uses the phone’s camera to detect if a cat is feeling pain.
The app examines the ear and head position, the eye constriction, the muzzle tension and the change in the whiskers in order to detect complaints. A 2019 study published in the journal Scientific Reports found the Feline Grimace Scale or FGS to be a valid and reliable tool for assessing acute pain in cats.
“It helps human cat owners know whether or not their cat is in pain,” 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.
“I love working with cats, I’ve always grown up with cats,” she says. “For other colleagues, freshmen 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 faces can be helpful, but cat owners should also look at their pet’s entire body, including the tail, for clues about their wellbeing, said Alice Potter of the UK animal welfare group RSPCA.
“Cats who are worried or afraid hold this tail very tight and tense.