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Japan feline research institute turns to bio-logging to analyze cats' behavior

Yukiko Iyo pets a cat with a wearable device attached around its neck in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on Jan. 26, 2022. (Mainichi/Yuichi Nishigori)
This image shows a "Felidae map" introducing spots across Japan related to cats, released on Rabo Inc.'s official website.

TOKYO -- Catlog, a research institute that collects and analyzes data measured around the clock by wearable devices attached to cats, aims to utilize obtained information, such as that our feline friends' average sleeping time gets longer as they age and they sleep longer in winter than in other seasons, to better take care of our pets.

    The institute in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward was to release a second report in accordance with "Cat Day" in Japan, which falls on Feb. 22. It says, "By studying the ecology and habits of cats, we hope that we can detect abnormalities and symptoms early on, and use that for the heathy life of felines."

    Yukiko Iyo, a 41-year-old cat lover in Shibuya Ward, studied bio-logging -- a method to investigate the ecology of wild animals by attaching small measuring instruments such as GPS devices on them -- at Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology Graduate School. She used that experience to set up institute operator Rabo Inc. on Cat Day in 2018.

    Data is collected using the wearable device "Catlog," developed by Iyo and others and commercialized in 2019. It records and gathers information on seven types of behavior including walking, running, eating and sleeping. The data is then sent to owners via a smartphone app, and they can watch over their pets even when not at home.

    Furthermore, a device that can be laid under the litter box to record the amount and frequency of feline excretion called "Catlog Board" was commercialized in August 2021. Currently, a total of about 3.8 billion pieces of cat data has been gathered and analyzed.

    This January, Iyo and others participated for the first time in the annual consumer electronics IT trade show CES held in Las Vegas. They apparently received inquiries from local IT companies including one firm that said it tried developing a similar device but had difficulties with behavioral segmentation. Iyo proudly said, "Each cat has its own personality, and it is hard to judge even something as simple as a posture they take when drinking water. We are the only ones in the world to identify and collect this much data, which makes even researchers envious."

    The Catlog research institute was established in November 2021 with the aim of utilizing big data gathered by Rabo Inc. Iyo recalled, "I had been planning (its establishment) from when I initially set up our business, and we were fully prepared." The first report, supervised by employee and veterinarian Atsushi Ogawa, 38, was released on the company's website.

    In the report, they announced their finding that cats' average sleeping time gets longer as they get older and they slept longer in winter than in other seasons -- inversely proportional to hours of daylight. But cats are nocturnal in nature, and it is said that they sleep less in winter in the wild. Therefore, it seems that domestic cats have come to adapt their behavior to that of humans.

    Ogawa explained, "The accumulation of such behavioral data on animals is also revolutionary in terms of medical care. It means a lot to be able to academically verify health problems that were just hypotheses up until now."

    Iyo said, "With cats, unlike dogs, there are less opportunities to compare how different owners take care of them. If they are less energetic than usual, it may be a sign of a change in their physical condition. We'd like people to spread that awareness and live happily together with their pets."

    In addition, Iyo created a "Felidae map" in accordance with 2022's Year of the Tiger, and released in on the company's website. The map introduces spots across Japan related to felines including Gotokuji temple in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, which is said to be the birthplace of "maneki-neko" beckoning cats, and zoos with unique feline animals such as tigers, sand cats and Pallas's cats. "In the future, we'd like to collect data from species in the Felidae family at zoos, and analyze the differences and similarities with domestic cats," Iyo stated.

    Iyo and others are looking for topics and questions that people would like the research institute to take up, as well as spots to be included in the Felidae map. For inquiries, please visit Catlog's official website at: (in Japanese).

    (Japanese original by Yuichi Nishigori, Regional News Department)

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