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Digital Health For Pets – The Future Of Veterinary Care

The past year has brought an unprecedented surge in pet adoption in major cities and even in rural areas all around the world. As many people think of their pets as their children, it’s no surprise these animals also get their momentum in digital health. But what it means exactly and what our buzzwords like telemedicine, wearable devices and even smart health tools mean in the pet-setting – we dive deep to find out.

It’s not only that the number of pets adopted has grown significantly over the past 18 months – it’s also how pets, in general, received that much-needed boost regarding their immediate health issues. The pet market has grown; the sale of pet foods, toys, medicine and wearables skyrocketed. The pet care market is estimated to expand from $216 billion in 2020 to $232 billion in 2021. And caring for pets is a long-term commitment.

But it’s not just the size of the market that drew our attention towards pets. Digital health tools and challenges are surprisingly similar to the ones physicians who treat people face, and the digital transformation will also lead to (animal) patients living longer.

How digital health tools help our pets live longer – and happier

After all, what all owners want is their pets to live longer, healthier lives – similarly to what they desire for themselves. And they are not hesitant to buy similar tech solutions to reach that goal. Wearables and smart trackers dominate this market for our furry and non-furry friends alike.

Wearables

These devices that capture vital parameters such as the body temperature, heart rate, respiration rate and pH levels help keep track of the pets’ health on a continuous basis. Remote monitoring tools help owners watch the animals remotely. Actually, it’s quite interesting how pet cameras are sold, for example, on Amazon along with baby cams. They even have pet pets, with heartbeat sounds to ease anxiety – just like the ones sold for kids.

Wearable trackers do serve a more immediate purpose. Knowing where your pet is (especially if it gets lost) is vital, and having a tracker to find the beloved one is a great help. The New York Times has a great collection of pet trackers, with a dog focus to find four-legged friends who got lost in city jungles. What is important is that you need to have a GPS embedded tracker, for Bluetooth-based ones only have a limited search range.

Remote monitoring

Smart harnesses can check the vitals remotely, making sure your pet is watched even if you don’t see them. PetPace smart collar tracks heart rate, respiration, temperature, activity and calorie burn. Another fascinating technology is the VetGuardian platform. It’s similar to a radar that tracks your pet’s vital signals from afar. In hospitals, we put all sorts of sensors on patients – but that would hardly work with energetic pets running and rolling around. Without a physical connection, the device can monitor and accurately track temperature, pulse, respiration and movement. It’s an astonishing technology that should be used in human hospitals, too!

3D printing

It’s not just humans: pet prosthetics also get a boost from 3D technology. Just as in the case of a human, pets sometimes need special equipment to replace missing limbs, and novel 3D modelling software are reaching the market to manufacture custom-designed prosthetics for animals. Dogs, cats, horses and other pets now have the chance to start anew – although, as one expert told The Medical Futurist, “in most cases it’s for the well-being of the owner, not the dog. My dog would just be happy as long as I’m next to him – no matter how many legs he’s got.”

Digital tech for vets

Vets have to manage their online presence, launch telemedical services, deal with clients who google the symptoms of their pets and ask a lot of technological questions. Exactly the same way as in human healthcare.

Patient information management systems are equally important in animal clinics. Keeping track of an animal’s wellbeing adds significantly to its cure, and there are more and more platforms vets can choose from – at least in English. Vaccinations, lab or imaging results, contact details kept in a safe system is a must today for animal care practices.

Smartphone apps can help track the medical documents of our pets, keep us in contact with the vet – especially for post-surgical management – and telemedicine can improve access to care at any time. Remote care is the new reality of healthcare and as the pandemic accelerates the use of online appointments, e-vet platforms and virtual care, vets need to be conscious of additional organisational and data privacy issues, while they need to learn how to communicate effectively with their clients in these virtual spaces.

However, in order to take advantage of all these, vets have to adapt to these technologies. They also need to undergo the cultural transformation, just like physicians should, gain new skills about digital literacy and learn how to use new equipment.

Could an A.I. learn Daschund?

As in human healthcare, A.I. holds big promises in the treatment of pets, too. It will inevitably change vet practices as it will transform human care, but it’ll likely to happen more slowly. A.I. can be used in administration in veterinary hospitals and clinics; speech-to-text A.I.-supported software programmes can help vets similarly as these GPs do; and fed with sufficient datasets, A.I. will become a superpower in supporting decisions in medical imaging. Will it be able to learn to speak cat? Unlikely, but it’s too good to miss out – and researchers do try.

Moreover there’s already an A.I.-powered dog collar that attempts to decipher a dog’s moods. Petpuls uses “a proprietary algorithm in combination with a proprietary database of more than 10K bark samples from 50 breeds of dogs in four different sizes to detect and determine five different emotional states of your dog — happy, relaxed, anxious, angry or sad” – the company states. Reviews are good, but if it can really tell the mental wellbeing of your dog – only you’d know.

Veterinarian care can expect the same trajectory of digital health technologies as we see in healthcare. And perhaps, in a strange way, the passion people have to keep their pets healthy will expose them to these new technologies enough so they can start taking advantage of them in their own healthcare as well.

Details

  • Budapest, Hungary
  • The Medical Futurist