Systematic Review of the Behavioural Assessment of Pain in Cats

J Feline Med Surg. 2016 Feb;18(2):60-76. doi: 10.1177/1098612X15578725. Epub 2015 May 13.


Objectives: The objectives were to review systematically the range of assessment tools used in cats to detect the behavioural expression of pain and the evidence of their quality; and to examine behavioural metrics (considering both the sensory and affective domains) used to assess pain.

Methods: A search of PubMed and ScienceDirect, alongside articles known to the authors, from 2000 onwards, for papers in English was performed. This was followed by a manual search of the references within the primary data sources. Only peer-reviewed publications that provided information on the assessment tool used to evaluate the behavioural expression of pain in cats, in conscious animals (not anaesthetised cats), were included.

Results: No previous systematic reviews were identified. One hundred papers were included in the final assessment. Studies were primarily related to the assessment of pain in relation to surgical procedures, and no clear distinction was made concerning the onset of acute and chronic pain. Ten broad types of instrument to assess pain were identified, and generally the quality of evidence to support the use of the various instruments was poor. Only one specific instrument (UNESP-Botucatu scale) had published evidence of validity, reliability and sensitivity at the level of a randomised control trial, but with a positive rather than placebo control, and limited to its use in the ovariohysterectomy situation. The metrics used within the tools appeared to focus primarily on the sensory aspect of pain, with no study clearly discriminating between the sensory and affective components of pain.

Conclusions and relevance: Further studies are required to provide a higher quality of evidence for methods used to assess pain in cats. Furthermore, a consistent definition for acute and chronic pain is needed. Tools need to be validated that can detect pain in a range of conditions and by different evaluators (veterinary surgeons and owners), which consider both the sensory and emotional aspects of pain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cat Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Cat Diseases / therapy
  • Cats
  • Chronic Pain / therapy
  • Chronic Pain / veterinary*
  • Pain Management / methods
  • Pain Management / veterinary*
  • Pain Measurement / veterinary
  • Reproducibility of Results