STORY: Can artificial intelligence tell when your cat is in pain?

That's what Japanese smartphone app CatsMe! says it can do.

Mayumi Kitakata often frets about the health and wellbeing of her 14-year-old cat Chi.

So to help Chi live a longer life, she turned to AI.

In March, she became an early adopter of CatsMe!

Kitakata says the app helps cut down on the guesswork of when it is necessary to visit the veterinarian.

:: Mayumi Kitakata, Cat owner

"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 it keeps showing results like this for several days, I will realize something's wrong."

The app was developed by tech startup Carelogy and researchers at Nihon University, who trained the AI model on 6,000 pictures of cats.

Professor Kazuya Edamura co-developed the app.

:: Kazuya Edamura, Nihon University

"We rated cats' facial expressions that showed pain. The AI can determine how much the cat's current facial expression coincides with the rated faces. We already have 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% accurate."

Developers expect that level of accuracy to improve as the AI model continues to train on more feline faces.

Since its launch in 2023, CatsMe! has been used by more than 230,000 customers.

While pets are an integral part of many families around the world, these companions have an outsized role in Japan due to the ageing population and plummeting birth rate.

The Japan Pet Food Association estimates there were almost 16 million pet cats and dogs in the country in 2023.

That's more than the number of children under 15.