Objectives: The present study aimed to evaluate the inter-observer reliability of three feline pain scales commonly used in clinical practice.
Methods: Twenty cats undergoing elective neutering surgery were assessed both pre- and postoperatively by three independent assessors (a board-certified anaesthetist, a veterinary anaesthesia nurse and a final-year veterinary student) using three different pain scales: the Glasgow Feline Composite Measure Pain Scale (CMPS - Feline), the Colorado State University Feline Acute Pain Scale (CSU - FAPS) and the Feline Grimace Scale (FGS). Reliability statistics was used to evaluate the level of agreement between assessors.
Results: Twenty-seven groups of paired observations were evaluated, of which 16 (59%) showed fair agreement, eight (30%) showed none to slight agreement and the remaining three (11%) showed moderate agreement based on Cohen's weighted kappa statistics. Based on Cronbach's alpha statistics, 12 (44%) of the 27 groups of observations showed moderate reliability, 12 (44%) showed poor reliability and the remaining three (11%) showed good reliability. No scale was superior to the others in terms of inter-rater reliability (P = 0.179); however, the pair composed of the final-year veterinary student and anaesthesia nurse showed better agreement than the two other pairs of assessors, both of which included the board-certified anaesthetist (P = 0.015).
Conclusions and relevance: Despite the usefulness of behavioural pain scales as clinical tools, their users should bear in mind their limitations, particularly the intrinsic subjectivity and potential variability of outcome between assessors with different backgrounds and level of expertise.
Keywords: Behavioural pain scale; acute pain; inter-observer reliability; postoperative pain.