Health Technology for Your Pet

Health Technology for Pets
Health Technology for Pets. meshaphoto / Getty Images

Pets have an important place in our lives. There are almost 90 million dogs in the United States, and more than one in three households own at least one dog or cat. Pet ownership brings us a number of emotional, physical and social benefits, but it also creates responsibility. Responsible pet owners often worry for their animal’s health and general well-being.

Health conscious pet owners have been able to apply the principles of health technology to their pets for some time now.

The global pet wearable market has been on the rise. Grand View Research estimates that by 2022, it will reach $2.36 billion annually.

There are numerous fitness trackers and health-monitoring devices on the market that are developed specifically for animals, especially dogs. If your furry friend is overweight, suffers from a heart condition, or you just worry how he or she is managing while you are away, chances are there is health technology already available that can help you manage your concerns. The emergence of animal-orientated digital health products is also paving the way for new, exciting startups. Innovations and science from other industries are being applied to the pet-care sector for the benefit of our furry friends.

Smart Bow Ties and Collars

Obesity is not just a global human problem. It appears that animals living with humans suffer from the consequences of modern lifestyle, too.

It has been estimated that over 50 percent of dogs in the United States are either obese or overweight, which presents a serious risk factor for many chronic animal diseases (diseases that decrease the lifespan of our pets).

Boosting pets’ activity level is often the first step toward improving their health and increasing their life expectancy.

Moreover, a growing body of research shows that individuals who engage in dog walking naturally increase their daily physical activity. Additional reported benefits are better relaxation and social interactions.

Some insurance companies are jumping on the pet technology bandwagon too. International insurance company RSA, for instance, is offering lower pet-insurance premiums to owners with healthier animals. You can prove your dog’s fitness by sharing the information from their activity tracker—a principle similar to that used with humans who can be awarded for reaching their activity goals.

There are several activity monitors available on the market today to help your pet stay active. Wonderwoof is one example. The device comes in the form of a stylish bowtie that monitors activity in real time and provides the animal’s caregiver with feedback. Updates from the device are sent to a free mobile application, which allows the user to monitor the animal’s activity and find out if he or she is sleeping, walking, running or playing.

Equipped with this knowledge, users can establish if their dogs are getting sufficient exercise based on their size, age, and breed. Similar to human activity trackers, Wonderwoof creates individual fitness goals and encourages activity on lazy days or gives praise when activity levels are within the desired range.

A similar product, Fitbark, also acts as a pet activity monitor and sleep tracker.

Voyce band goes a step further. This wearable device not only tracks your pet’s activity, but it also includes sensors for resting heart rate and respiratory rate. It also monitors the quality of your pet’s sleep, which can be an important indicator of health and well-being. In addition, it tracks your animal’s activity, distance traveled and expended calories so that you can actively work toward your pet’s health goals.

Voyce fits like a collar. The device is lightweight and waterproof, so your animal can wear it like any other collar.

The pet’s owner creates an online profile for his or her animal, and the band will collect data and send it to the user’s profile. The accompanying application calculates the dog’s trends and gives the owner (and their veterinarian) insights into the dog’s general condition. Voyce is designed to help identify some common health conditions, such as heart disease and respiratory problems. Your pet’s data summary can be printed out or accessed remotely, which eases communication with your veterinarian.

Voyce’s sensor platform that collects clinical-grade health metrics is being constantly developed and refined. Currently, the team’s research endeavors are focused on developing some new features, including measuring core temperature, heart rate variability and blood pressure. Their innovations might be applicable to human health, too, as well as to other animal species. 

Colorful Insights into Cat Health

Innovations are also being launched in the area of feline health. Pretty Litter is an interesting product designed to monitor cat health by focusing on the litter tray. This new litter formula reacts with the cat’s waste, changing the color of sand. Different colors can indicate the presence of different health issues, such as urinary tract infections and liver disease, and alert the owner if there is a problem before the symptoms even appear. The designers of Pretty Litter suggest that if your cat’s litter is any other color than golden yellow or olive green, you might need to bring your animal in to see the veterinarian. Blue, for example, could indicate kidney problems, and orange is suggestive of liver issues or pancreatitis.

Chatting With Your Pet While Away

Through the use of technology, you can now interact with your pets throughout the day. Whether you miss them or just want to check if they are doing okay in your absence, Skype-like options are being developed for animal lovers that go beyond simple voice and image exchange.

PetChatz, for instance, allows you to see and talk to your animal, as well as remotely dispense tasty snacks and scents that are familiar to your dog. The device needs to be connected to your home’s Wi-Fi, after which you can log in to the company’s website or use an app on your mobile device to communicate with your animal. There is also a new accessory that gives you the option of your pet calling you. According to the designers, the paw-shaped light on the call button blinks, which makes it possible for your furry friend to initiate the call.  

New devices are also being developed that might be able to give you some insight into your four-legged companion’s emotions. Inupathy is designed like a harness. It collects data on your dog and visualizes his or her emotional state using full color LEDs. By analyzing heart rate patterns, Inupathy indicates whether your pooch is relaxed, excited, happy, interested or stressed. DogStar TailTalk is another visionary device and can be placed on the dog’s tail. It aims to analyze and translate the intricacies of tail movements and advises you of your dog’s happiness. The invention comes with the DogStar app, so you can follow your pet’s feelings throughout the day.

If you sometimes think talking is the only thing that separates your dog from humans, this might soon change, too. Associate Professor Melody Moore Jackson, the creator and director of Georgia Tech’s BrainLab, has been working on communication devices for dogs. The computerized vest she designed can be operated by a dog to communicate more clearly with humans. Pulling levers or touching sensors could enable dogs to send a message if their owner needed help. This might be a particularly beneficial device for service dogs that sometimes need to alert others if their owner is unwell.

Animal Computer Interaction is another area of research that has been advancing. Currently, computers are designed for humans. Thus, they are considered anthropocentric. However, to be applied to animals, a more animal-centered approach is needed. Researchers are, therefore, looking for ways to design computers and machines dogs could interact with in a meaningful way. For example, a team from the University of Central Lancashire in the UK has been studying media dogs like to watch by using biometrics obtained from a head tracker.

Innovations in Vet-Owner Communication

Mobile online technology is now used in many places to deal with pet health issues, and its use is increasing sharply. Many clinics now send out digital reminders to pet owners about pet vaccinations and appointment reminders, as well as provide instructions regarding diets and medication regimen. This type of real-time communication comes with perks that benefit pet owners, their pets and veterinarians alike. Also, it usually increases client loyalty, which in turn helps veterinarians with their business.

Telemedicine for veterinarian visits now exists, too. VetOnDemand is an example of a telehealth application that can be used for video consultations with a licensed veterinarian. The severity of your pet’s symptoms can sometimes be assessed with the help of mobile technology without the need of going into a veterinarian clinic.

A report on innovation in pet care compiled by the Health for Animals and Oxford Analytica also noted that many clinics and research facilities in the United States now share their data. Uploading health information on animals to a central data bank allows for better cooperation between different veterinarian hospitals (for instance, helps establish the prevalence of certain diseases). It has been recognized that in some instances, the use of health information systems is more advanced in animal care than in human medicine.   

Promoting Human Health Through Animal Health Technology

Household pets are not the only animal users of smart technology and sensors; equipment can be adapted to fit different farm animals as well. Non-invasive smart sensors can be attached to livestock to track different health parameters, including their physiology, stress levels, and general welfare. Furthermore, these new and novel methods provide information on the origins of the animals and help with food safety. Ingestible transmitters have also been used with cattle and pigs to continuously measure their body temperature.

In many ways, the health of the animals that surround us influences our own health. Experts suggest that there should be more collaboration between human and animal health professionals. The development of the vaccine for cervical cancer in humans, which built on previous studies of the DNA of the papillomavirus in cattle and horses, is a good example of such collaboration. Several alliances have been forged recently between human and animal medicine. For instance, the World Veterinary Association now works more closely with the World Medical Organization. As digital health progresses, these collaborations will undoubtedly benefit and increase.

Sources

American Pet Products Association. 2017-2018 APPA National Pet Owners Survey. Greenwich, CT: American Pet Products Association; 2015.

Busse M, Schwerdtner W, Bokelmann W, et al. Analysis of Animal Monitoring Technologies in Germany From an Innovation System Perspective. Agricultural Systems., 2015;138:55-65.

Christian H, Bauman A, Epping JN, et al. Encouraging Dog Walking for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. Am J Lifestyle Med. 2016; 1-11. doi: 10.1177/1559827616643686.

Eigenberg R, Brown-Brandl T, Nienaber J. Sensors for Dynamic Physiological Measurements. Comput Electron in Agric. 2008;62:41-47.

Ritvo S, Allison R. Review: Designing for the Exceptional User: Nonhuman Animal-Computer Interaction (ACI). Comput Human Behav. 2017;70:222-233.

World Veterinary Organization. Innovation in Animal Health. http://www.worldvet.org/uploads/news/docs/healthforanimals_report_2015_innovation_in_animal_health.pdf.

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