Pet Health Advances: Are You Keeping Up?

Matthew C Dobbs

Matthew C Dobbs, BVM&S, Cert CHP, GDLaw, MRCVS is Global Chief Medical Officer, Destination Pet; Co-Chairman of the Clinical Advisory Board, MWI Animal Health; Director of AgriEPI; Head of Digital Strategy for Stonehaven and Trustee of the Animal Welfare Foundation.

In recent years, researchers and psychologists have demonstrated that there is indeed science behind the old adage that dogs look like their owners! These findings focused on the intense bonds that we as humans have forged with “man’s best friend”, noting the allure of familiarity, both in physical features and through shared personalities. These similarities are founded in our attraction for ‘similarity to ourselves’ and are believed to resonate from the appeal of an individual dog when we first choose him or her as our animal companion. So, with dogs proven to reflect our true nature – acting like us and looking like us – can the fullness of this similarity be extended to health too? Our opportunity to improve our lifestyle through exercise, diet and health screening has never been more convenient, all ensuring that we don’t just look like our pet but that we keep as fit and healthy as our pet too.

But if you thought that advanced healthcare is just for humans, you would be missing out on the revolutionary new shift now happening in animal health, as a plethora of new innovations and technologies are coming to the market. All of these help pet owners and their veterinarians to provide a proactive approach to their animals’ wellness. Driven by the advances made in diagnostics, wireless technology, machine learning and data applications, new apps, wearable pet tech and diagnostic tests are not just gimmicks, but provide detailed insight to a pet’s health and behaviour, allowing proactive health interventions and true preventative healthcare.

From wearables to geriatric health screens, our pets have never been better cared for. 

Many recent advances in pet health mirror developments in our own healthcare systems, and with the humanisation of pets, these services have been developed to provide an animal application, supporting pet health, from the new puppy or kitten, through to geriatric animal care. The latest advances include new genomic tests that can not only determine a young dog’s parentage, but can now screen for hereditary diseases, the likelihood of health problems associated with old age such as liver or kidney disease, and even be used to provide an insight into future temperament. Supporting the arrival of a new pet, new apps can help signpost owners to the suitability of a specific breed and nutritional advice and diets can be created, bespoke for each pet.

The aging pet is also well cared for with geriatric health screens commonplace as part of an aging
pet profile. Screenings help pick up early onset disease that can be treated or managed earlier in the process. Pet wearables using accelerometer technology can monitor exercise and rest period and be a useful adjunct to the growing obesity problem in pets. And supporting your pet with a prescription or age/breed/sex specific diets are now common ways of supporting positive health.

New apps, wearable pet tech and diagnostic tests are not just gimmicks, but provide detailed insight to a pet’s health and behaviour.

Fueling the development of animal health advances is the rise in the number of households with a pet. This is driven by the growth of younger people with more flexible lifestyles who are owning more pets and retired people who are living more active lives in old age. This growth is now predicted to further accelerate following the global COVID-19 pandemic, as more flexible working patterns allow people to accommodate pet ownership, which in turn is contributing to the market for new products and services that support the times when we are away from our pet.

One example is the Furbo, a new product that links via Wi-Fi and allows owners to interact with their pet by video and even provide them with a treat when they are away from home. Dog daycare in Europe and the US is growing exponentially, often using dog-cams to allow pet parents to “check in” to see how their pet is enjoying animal kindergarten. And for those pets who are stuck home alone, automated feed bowls and pet flaps can be remotely controlled to allow owners the opportunity to feed their pet while away or let them out into the garden for a doggy comfort break. If these new remote opportunities to interact with your pet don’t work, there are new medications to treat separation anxiety, supporting the mental health of any pet who can’t cope with time alone, away from their owner.

With the growing application of digital medicine and the growth in spending on our pets, routine health care for pets is now often superior to the healthcare of their owner. One example is dental care, where traditional veterinary services, limited to extractions, is now being replaced by advanced veterinary orthodontics, including root canal treatments, crown replacement and corrective braces, alongside the veterinary hygienists scale and polish, which no self-aware French Bull terrier should miss!

Developments in veterinary medicine and new pet service businesses are enhancing and improving the life of our pets and strengthening the human animal bond. From wearables to geriatric health screens, our pets have never been better cared for. Science can prove you may indeed look like your pet and now technology can demonstrate and support their health too.With all of these advances becoming popularised, it will help answer the question of whether or not your health keeps pace with your pet’s health too.