AI App Helps Monitor Aging Cats' Health in Japan

AI App Helps Monitor Aging Cats' Health in Japan
AI App Helps Monitor Aging Cats' Health in Japan

Mayumi Kitakata frets about the health and wellbeing of Chi, her stoic housemate who enjoys treats, indulges a bit too much in the catnip, and at about 14 is getting on in years for a feline.

Kitakata, 57, has had pet cats come and go over the years, and to help give Chi as many seasons as possible, she's turned to artificial intelligence.

In March, Kitakata became an early adopter of CatsMe!, an AI-driven smartphone application that purports to tell when a cat is feeling pain. That cuts down on the guesswork of when it is necessary to embark on a stressful trip to the veterinarian.

"He is at an age where more and more diseases are going to appear," said Kitakata, who is single and has a grown son. "So being able to consult the vet but still reduce the number of visits to the hospital is very important for him and for me."

She monitors Chi's toilet activity and uses the app to read its face each day.

While pets are an integral part of many families around the world, these companions have an outsized role in Japan due to the aging population and plummeting birth rate. The Japan Pet Food Association estimated there were almost 16 million pet cats and dogs in the country last year, more than the number of children under 15.

Tech startup Carelogy and researchers at Nihon University developed CatsMe! by training it on 6,000 pictures of cats, and the app has been used by more than 230,000 customers since its launch last year. The developers say it is more than 95% accurate and expect that degree to improve as the AI trains on more feline faces.

Statistics show that more than 70% of elderly cats have arthritis or pain, but only 2% of them actually go to a hospital.

So rather than a final diagnosis, the app has been used as a tool to make owners aware of whether the situation is normal or not.