Our approach to pet health science and data
At Waltham, we believe that with data, knowledge, and insights, we can find new ways to improve the health and wellbeing of pets around the world.
As Mars Petcare’s science centre, we are uniquely positioned to analyse information on the behaviour, health and genetics of pets around the world through our nutrition, health and pet service businesses. We also collect data from the pets housed at our 100+ acre site, and we do so following our WALTHAM™ caring science approach.
Harnessing the power of data from across Mars Petcare
With the MARS PETCARE BIOBANK, Waltham scientists will have the opportunity to connect biological samples of thousands of pets to their health, lifestyle, behaviour and genetic data. This can help them understand the markers of health and disease, and find new ways to advance individualised care for pets.
Working with Antech Diagnostics and Mars Veterinary Health experts, Waltham teams analysed historic health records of thousands of cats and dogs and identified early prediction algorithms for chronic kidney disease (CKD) risk in dogs and cats.
Training our pets
The WALTHAM™ scientific research and investigations may require collecting data from the pets living at our site. This data could come from observing and recording behaviour, or biological samples from pets.
We want to partner with our pets. For this to happen, they need to have confidence to work with us. We invest time to train and interact with our pets, which is done through positive reinforcement and rewards: when the dog or cat performs the desired behaviour, they are praised. Any unwanted behaviour is ignored, and never punished. Each pet is different, so by spending time to understand what motivates them, we ensure they receive the reward they want. This could be food, but it could be playing with their favourite toy, or a belly scratch. We can gradually build this up so our pets can perform more complex tasks when asked.
The team of Associates working with our pets are experts in ‘listening’ to their four legged partner. By constantly watching and reading the body language of the animal, they can spot subtle behavioural cues indicating the cat or dog may not be comfortable with the situation. This will shape the rest of the training session, and potentially their training plan. We adapt our style to each individual pet - some pets are confident in many situations and learn quickly, whereas others may need more time or a different approach.
Training for life skills
We use this same approach to develop life skills in our younger pets or to teach a new behaviour that will be used in a research study. For example, we prepare our pets to wear an Elizabethan collar as part of their life skills training. Most of the pets on site are neutered, so they will need to wear this collar that prevents them from damaging the surgery wound whilst it heals. As we know our pets will be undergoing this routine operation, we make sure they are happy and comfortable to wear this special collar in advance through training. This makes the recovery less stressful for the pet.
Training for scientific trials
One of our studies involved validation of a technique that allows us to take special photos of dogs’ teeth. To do this, our dogs were trained to sit very still whilst their handler moved their lips out of the way. Another person with a camera was then able to shine a light on the teeth and take a photograph, which could be used to measure how much plaque was there.