Source: CBC (Extract)
Posted: November 12, 2023

Cats’ emotions can be harder to read than their tail-wagging counterparts, but a made-in-Alberta app is working to change that.

Susan Groeneveld, the Calgary developer of Tably, an AI app designed to help vet clinics assess a kitty’s pain, said felines are typically taken to the vet far less often than dogs.

“And when you really unpack that, it’s because they hide their pain. When a cat is in pain, they go and hide under the bed, versus a dog that’ll present to the owner, like kids do,” said Groeneveld, the founder at Sylvester.ai, the company developing the Tably app.

“I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if everyday people that love their pets would know if their animal may be demonstrating pain.”

Groeneveld said that in the app’s early stages, they launched a free version publicly, which had 54,000 downloads within a week.

“Which told us that people were really, really interested in it,” she said.

“But we really wanted to make sure that it was validated and veterinarians actually supported it because it was a really easy opportunity for us to become a novelty.”

Over the past year, the app has been clinically tested by vets and pet parents in Europe, the United States and Canada, and will be on the market in the U.S., France and Singapore in January.

It is slated to be launched in some Canadian clinics this fall.

The app uses algorithms to apply standards and facial pain scores that veterinarians have already created and will be reviewed by a vet.

“We believe our technology will make it more accurate because there’s less human bias in the subjectivity of the assessment,” Groeneveld said.

Dr. Liz Ruelle, veterinarian at Wild Rose Cat Clinic in Calgary, is on the advisory board for the app. She used it in her practice during the beta-testing phase. She’s excited to bring it back.

Ruelle said she plans to use it, in part, as a prescription to pet parents of geriatric felines and those that have undergone surgery.

When a cat experiences pain, its eyes and eyelid positions change and they shift their ear positions, she said. 

“Like if we’re in a good mood and we smile, we could think of how our cheeks are uplifted. We see the apples of our cheeks. If I had whiskers on my cheeks, then I would have that same uplifted, happy whiskers,” she said.

“But when I’m feeling sad, or headache, or painful, then those facial muscles start to sag down … instead of being upright and perky whiskers, they would be kind of dropping down the face.”

While the app is intended for veterinary use, Groeneveld and Ruelle have a lite version on their radar for pet owners to use at home. However, they do not have a firm date yet.

And as an avid cat lover, Ruelle said it’s untrue that kitties don’t have as much emotional depth as dogs.

“But you’ve got to earn it with cats. They don’t give up that love freely. But when they have, it’s an amazing, amazing gift.”