Focus on Nutrition: Behavior Monitoring Taking Pet Healthcare to a New Level
S. Dru Forrester, DVM, MS, DACVIM
The limited time with patients in the examination room means that diagnosis relies heavily on perceptions and observations of pet owners, who may not recognize or may misinterpret important signs.
Technology provides actionable insights to improve patient care and enhance client communication and compliance
Because pets lack the ability to describe their clinical signs or explain how they feel, the veterinary healthcare team is at a disadvantage when it comes to successfully diagnosing and treating patients. The limited time with patients in the examination room means that diagnosis relies heavily on perceptions and observations of pet owners, who may not recognize or may misinterpret important signs.
For example, clients with an overweight dog on a recommended exercise plan might think that their dog is active, but can they measure how many minutes per day the dog spends resting versus running or walking? And what about dogs with allergic skin disease or otitis that are home alone for much of the day—is it possible to know how many minutes per day they spend scratching or head shaking?
Today’s technology can help close this information gap, and veterinarians are taking note.
“Advances in technology continue to provide veterinarians with tools to deliver higher-quality care to their patients. Remote monitoring of a dog’s activity and movement can actually assist the veterinarian to fine-tune treatment choices, while at the same time providing the client with objective information about just how well their dog is responding to a care plan. This is a win–win for all involved,” said Robin Downing, DVM, MS, DAAPM, DACVSMR, CVPP, CCRP, of the Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado.
A number of lightweight sensors that can attach to a dog’s collar and collect a variety of data are available. The best systems go beyond basic activity tracking to provide more advanced behavior monitoring. These devices can provide continuous (24/7), detailed, and actionable insights to the veterinary healthcare team to help inform veterinarians as they recommend treatment options and provide valuable behavioral information related to pets’ underlying health conditions.
For example, AGL’s Vetrax™ system captures multidimensional, high-frequency data, which is then processed by cloud-based algorithms developed by scientists at Georgia Tech. The algorithms can match waves of energy, which are the pets’ movements detected by the sensor, to a database of identified behaviors. Specific actions, such as resting, walking, running, scratching, and head shaking, can then be quantified, informing the veterinary healthcare team of the amount of time per day the dog exhibits each behavior.
Going beyond the ability to collect and process data, advances in software design now allow the entire veterinary healthcare team to effectively and efficiently analyze this information and clearly present their findings to clients.
Web portals serve as the hub of information where veterinary healthcare team members can see a dashboard with infographics that visually summarize an overview for all patients. The team members can also access a detailed view of data for individual patients and set goals to help manage the pet’s underlying conditions.
For example, through the Vetrax portal, the veterinary healthcare team can schedule reminders, send questions to pet owners, or request photos or videos between visits to the hospital. This provides an opportunity to enhance communication with clients and increase productivity and quality of each hospital visit. Clients can view progress and communications through a smartphone app, which provides a vehicle to see measurable changes from their veterinarian’s treatment plan and can improve compliance.
With the ability to monitor and quantify specific behaviors, technology can help play a vital role in gauging the effectiveness of a nutrition therapy plan for a healthcare team.
This year, Hill’s Pet Nutrition announced the launch of Hill’s® SmartCare, a combination of the Vetrax behavioral monitoring system and Prescription Diet nutrition available exclusively through veterinarians. With this program, dogs wear the Vetrax sensor on their collars as part of a veterinarian-prescribed plan, which includes therapeutic nutrition to help manage dermatologic disorders (allergic skin disease, otitis), obesity, or osteoarthritis. Through the online portal and smartphone app, the veterinary healthcare team and owner can monitor the dog’s behaviors (eg, scratching, head shaking, sleep quality) and have a more objective measurement to show the benefits of therapeutic nutrition.
Dr. Joel Griffies, DACVD, has used the Hill’s SmartCare and Vetrax technology with his patients at the Animal Dermatology Clinic in Marietta, Georgia.
“As veterinary dermatologists, we ask pet parents how itchy their dogs are, but they don’t know because they’re not home for most of the day. Now, Hill’s SmartCare powered by Vetrax helps bridge the communication gap by giving us an objective measurement, rather than relying on human observation,” Dr. Griffies said.
With new technology, veterinarians will be able to extend their care beyond in-office consultations and monitor effects of their recommendations in real time. Access to quantitative data provides a new level of understanding about how a veterinarian’s treatment plan affects patient behaviors and, ultimately, helps transform the lives of dogs with common conditions, including dermatologic disorders, obesity, and osteoarthritis.
The availability of a behavioral monitoring system allows veterinarians and clients to partner like never before and maximize effectiveness of a pet’s healthcare program. Moving forward, technology will advance to be able to recognize and track additional behaviors and provide veterinarians with even more powerful tools to help transform the lives of pets.
“As veterinary dermatologists, we ask pet parents how itchy their dogs are, but they don’t know because they’re not home for most of the day.”
— Dr. Joel Griffies