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How People In Japan Are Turning To Artificial Intelligence To Get Healthcare For Their Cats

Mayumi Kitakata is busy taking photos of her cat. But it’s not to add to her gallery or share on social media. It’s to check the cat’s health. Mayumi uploads the photos daily on an app that tells her if the cat is showing any signs of discomfort or ill-health.

The cat, named Chi, is 14 years old and Mayumi is worried all may not be well. Pointing to te yellow marks seen on the app, Mayumi Kitakata says, “These yellow marks are when the app indicated that the cat showed pain. If it continues for a while, in my case, I will consult the vet over the phone. If the result keeps showing results like this for several days, I will realise something’s wrong (with cat).

Mayumi is an early adopter of an app called CatsMe! The app claims it can tell if a cat is in pain and that can help the pet parent make an informed decision about whether to go to a vet for further investigation. Mayumi has had cats for a long time. A few years ago, she lost another cat called Soran to cancer when he was only eight years old. “I used the photo of my cat that had already passed away on CatsMe, and by the result I knew that he was in pain at that time. I wonder if I had had this app, I might have been able to save him,” she says, wiping away tears.

Professor Kazuya Edamura, who is a co-developer of the app, says the software has trained on 6000 photos of cats. Since its launch last year, the app has been used by more than 230,000 users.

“We have rated the cats’ facial expressions that showed pain. The AI in the software can determine how much the cat (you are testing)’s current facial expression coincides with the rated faces. We already have case reports of cats that were in fact in pain so we were able to give that feedback to the software. As a result, the app is more than 95 percent accurate,” says Professor Edamura.

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Even though Professor Edamura says that the trained eye may be able to spot a pet in discomfort, many pet parents are unable to do so.

“Our statistics show that more than 70% of elderly cats have arthritis or pain, but only 2% of them actually go to a hospital. The reason for this is that the owners usually are not aware that their cats are in pain. The purpose of creating this app is to help owners become aware of various types of pain and realise that their cats might not act normal, and to encourage them to come to the hospital (for further checkups),” he adds.

Pets are beloved companions no matter which part of the world you are in. But in Japan, they play an even bigger role.

Japan has an ageing population and a sinking birth rate. As per the Japan Pet Food Association there were almost 16 million pet cats and dogs in the country last year, more than the number of children under 15.