Thanks to technology, our world is changing rapidly, with ever-new, ever-innovative ideas coming into play on a seemingly daily basis. The latest advancement to sweep the pet world aims to address a problem that, frankly, few of us even released we had: how to tell the state of our cat’s health through their poop. At first glance, it seems a strange concept – after all, how many of us would want to take on the strange and smelly task of delving deep into the litter tray when we have a vet to do the hard work for us? But bear with the idea, and you soon start to see the attraction. After all, we all know that stool deposits can say a lot about our own health, so it stands to reason that a cat’s excretions are capable of the same. And why pay half our salary for the privilege of 5 minutes with a vet, not to mention put our pet through the trauma of a trek in the travel carrier, when we could achieve the same results from the comfort of our own homes?
Taiwan based LuluPet is aiming to turn us all onto the merits of stool analysis by releasing the world’s first-ever litter tray (due to go on sale with Amazon for $149 in March) with “built-in stool and urine image recognition”. Their aim “to help your cat to live a healthier life” is a mighty one, and something anyone with even a vague attachment to their pet will happily jump on board with. But how does it work, and can it really improve our cat’s health enough to justify the investment? The jury’s still out, but on first analysis, the results look promising.
Smart devices are nothing new in the pet world, and over the past few years, we’ve seen technology creep into more and more aspects of our pet’s lives, whether it’s through smart-enabled feeders or cat doors that work in tandem with your pet’s microchip (meaning no more uninvited guests making free and easy with the portal). Even smart litter boxes are almost commonplace now, with the majority built on the idea of offering easy, convenient cleanup and a reduction in odor. LuluPet’s offering, however, is something else entirely, and if successful, could pave the way for a whole new approach to pet care.
So, onto the big question… how does it work? In essence, the litter tray functions as any normal tray does: cat walks into a semi-enclosed litter tray, cat does its business, cat exits the litter tray. So far, so normal, but what happens next is where things get interesting. Rather than simply allowing the cat’s deposits to remain, potent but useless, until scooped away, the tray takes an image of the poop before comparing it to the vast selection of feline poops in its depository to check if it’s A-Okay, or something to be concerned about. The info is then fed back to the owner (who, if that wasn’t enough, can also watch their cat in action on the litter tray via the built-in camera, which can be synced up to any smart device for easy viewing. They can also find out if their cat’s dehydrated, underweight, or in need of a few extra rounds with the laser pointer).
If you’ve ever been at all concerned about whether your cat’s poops are normal, finally you have a device to give you the answer. But can enough really be told from poop to make this anything more than just a novelty? According to Pets MD, the answer is a resounding yes. According to Dr. Alan Schwartz of Compassion Veterinary Health Center in Poughkeepsie, New York, abnormal bowel movements can be indicative of any number of health problems, including digestive disorders or liver or kidney disease. Even if your cat is otherwise healthy, it still pays to pay attention to their stools, as he goes on to add: “In a relatively normal cat, [problems with stools] can also be a sign of a sensitivity to the diet offered, as well as parasites,
Constipation, which is usually indicated by very hard, dry pieces of stool, can point to dehydration, an early sign of kidney disease. It could also signal intestinal blockages, inactivity, or even neurologic disorders. On the other end of the scale, diarrhea or very loose bowl movements come with its own hosts of problem, not least a dirty litter tray. As Dr. M. Duffy Jones of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia notes, watery stools could indicate intestinal upset and inflammation. “It can be caused by anything from worms to things stuck in the intestines”, he adds.
It’s not just the consistency of bowel movements we need to pay attention to: color can also be a useful indicator of potential problems. According to the experts, dark brown is what we should hope to see: black stools could indicate that there’s digested blood in the stool, while tan or light brown could point to liver or pancreatic problems (although before you panic too much, it could also just point to a high fiber diet).
So, if so much can be told about the state of our pet’s health from their stools, a litter box like LuluPet’s can only be a good thing, right? Right… but with a caveat. Having a wealth of information at our fingertips can be a great and empowering thing, but unless you’re a trained MD, the chances you’ll be able to interpret that information correctly isn’t always going to 100%. Think about it- how often have you looked up your minor headache on WebMD only to come away fully convinced you’ve either got a brain tumor or syphilis? The same principle applies here. Yes, it’s a great way of being active about your pet’s health, but on the flip side, it risks feeding a surfeit of information to people who, despite their best intentions, aren’t necessarily equipped to deal with it.