This New App Could Tell You Whether Something's Wrong With Your Cat

·3 min read
taking picture of cat with iphone to use app to see whether cat is happy
taking picture of cat with iphone to use app to see whether cat is happy

Luis Alvarez / Getty

Cats are notorious for expertly hiding any pain or discomfort they might be experiencing, but a new smartphone app called Tably could help cat owners figure out if something is bothering their precious felines.

Using artificial intelligence and the feline grimace scale (FGS), Tably uses a cat's photo to determine whether they appear happy or not. While it won't diagnose any sicknesses, Tably interpreting your cat as unhappy could mean she needs to see a vet.

Take Kismet as an example. He belongs to Linda Hall, co-host of the 19 Cats and Counting podcast. As she explained on a recent episode, she was taking photos of all her cats recently when Kismet's result came back as unhappy. Tably determined Kismet was unhappy a couple more times that night, even though he was purring and seemingly enjoying the pets he was getting, Hall says. So she sent him to the veterinarian the next morning.

That proved to be the right move. Kismet, who's positive for FIV, was experiencing painful inflammation and was dehydrated. Vet staff got him fluids and medication, and Hall credits Tably with saving her cat's life.

"I would never have known, ever," she says on the podcast.

What Is Tably?

Basically, it's another tool cat owners and veterinarians can use to figure out how their cats and patients are doing.

"Largely, cats hide their pain. Our hypothesis is because they hide their pain, they don't get as much health care as they should," Miche Priest, the leader of the startup—sylvester.ai—that developed Tably, tells Daily Paws.

Using the app is simple enough. You take a photo or series of photos of your cat, and then the app will let you know if your cat is feeling happy or unhappy using the FGS. The grimace scale measures the positions of the cat's head, whiskers, ears, eyes, and muzzle.

If after several tries your cat continues to register as unhappy, it's probably time to start troubleshooting what could be wrong or schedule a trip to the vet. Priest says the app can be especially helpful for cats recovering from a surgery or older felines who might begin experiencing arthritis or dental pain—things that can just pop up one day.

"If you consistently get 'not happy,' we have found that has been a sign there is an issue," she adds.

Sylvester released the app in June after testing a prototype. Cat owners have used it to monitor allergies and to determine whether cats are falling victim to ear mites or worms.

The app is available in the Apple App Store or on the sylvester.ai website for folks who don't use an iPhone. There are versions available for both everyday cat owners and veterinarians and other animal-health professionals.

"This is not a novelty tool," Priest says. "This is something that actually helps cats and improves their quality of life."

Tably's Limitations

First is the obvious one: Any health problem your cat is experiencing will need to be diagnosed by a veterinarian. Tably can't do that for you.

The second is that, so far, the app only works on cats with typical, domestic shorthair-type faces. Cat breeds with unique ears, for example (Persians, Scottish folds, and sphinxes), won't register on the app, Priest says,

You'll also want to avoid taking the photo when your cat is meowing to you, which can throw off the measurements. Same goes for taking the photo just after your cat's woken up because they'll be grumpy, Priest says. (Just like all of us.)

Otherwise, give it a try while keeping in mind that it's new technology. You can always talk to your veterinarian to see what they think about it.

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