How technology is changing the future of pet care

Pet Insight Project was launched in April 2018 at the Veterinary Innovation Summit with three guiding principles:

  1. Pets’ behavior can be one of the strongest indicators of their well-being. Behavioral changes are often signs of changes in health, and unhealthy lifestyles are risk factors for the future development of disease.

  2. Early detection of risk factors and changes in a pet’s well-being enables more prompt and informed care.

  3. Wearable devices can enable earlier detection and treatment of health issues by intelligently detecting and interpreting risk factors and changes in a pet’s behavior.

Since our launch, we’ve been working hard to collect data and validate our thesis. We’ve been recruiting pets and pet owners and distributed over 70,000 Whistle FIT devices to Banfield clients. Our project participants have recorded over 6,000 videos of dogs engaged in all manner of behaviors; behaviors like eating, drinking, scratching, urinating, rubbing, licking, barking, sleeping, and more. Our team of data scientists has spent untold hours mining through the data and building models, models that help predict behaviors and detect medical conditions based on those behaviors.

Along the journey, and because of the efforts listed above, we’ve managed to teach FIT a lot of new tricks. We can now detect behaviors like eating, drinking, scratching, rubbing, licking, barking, sleep and the list continues to expand. We understand when your dog is standing, sitting, or lying down. Our crazy idea is starting to look a little less crazy everyday; we’ve proved that we really can accurately predict behaviors based on wearable device data from the Whistle FIT, and we’re in the middle of beta-testing several behavior detection technologies like eating and itching (project participants encouraged to sign up and test!).

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This is all to say that the future of technology-enabled pet care is coming quickly, and Pet Insight Project is leading the charge.

By now - especially if you’re a pet owner - you might be asking: “What does all of this mean for me?”

It means a better world for your pets. It means finding things before they are expensive, making small interventions, just-in-time education, and enabling lifestyle course corrections before there is a large issue.  Early detection is at the core of our project, and with early detection, we are able to find things before they become worse and possibly life-threatening.

In effect, we’re giving pets a voice. Sure they can bark, and whine and generally behave in ways that might communicate well with another dog, but is difficult for human ears and brains to understand. We need another way to hear what our pets are trying to tell us. As a veterinarian, it’s often hard to decipher vague accounts of a pet’s behavior from their worried owners, when presented with a problem before it was obvious.  We are objectifying the subjective.

How do we do this? We leverage our behavior detection technologies and Banfield Pet Hospital’s database of pet health records to understand what signals lead to disease. For example: scratching.

We are able to look at dogs wearing Whistle devices who were (a) diagnosed with a skin issue and (b) not diagnosed with any skin issues (a pet with healthy skin!) and see what their behavioral data looked like in the time leading up to diagnosis, and after treatment.

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Because of the full-stack insight in the behavioral data before diagnosis and the medical data after, we’re able to teach our AI models to understand these patterns that lead to a diagnosis, enabling us to catch these patterns earlier and start treatment before they get worse. We are also able to monitor which medications work best and follow up after we stop medicating, enabling precision medicine. Catching patterns earlier means we are potentially catching a condition before there is a standard treatment protocol. Which means we have work to do to establish what early treatment looks like. In addition to enabling precise medication administration, we are also exploring holistic lifestyle recommendations. We know that many possible intervention points on the road to illness are not always pharmacologic. They are lifestyle changes. We are observing, hypothesizing and designing interventional experiences.

One of the big changes we see coming is tele-advice from a remote professional playing a much larger role. Imagine your Whistle FIT device picking up on a change in eating behavior, and lets you know that there is a possible dental issue with your dog. Would you like to connect with a veterinarian for quick consultation?

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This is how we imagine the future of pet care evolving: using technology like Whistle FIT to integrate seamlessly into the life of pets and owners. Helping to make a profound difference in how we prevent clinical illness. Stay tuned to the project as we transform the future of “sick care” into “health care”

BY ALETHA CARSON
DOCTOR OF VETERINARY MEDICINE, PET INSIGHT PROJECT

 
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