happy healthy puppy running down the sidewalk

Welfare and Behaviour




5 ways science is giving puppies a healthy start in life

A walk in the local park is enough to see how many people have welcomed a new puppy into their lives during lockdown. It’s no surprise that we crave the loving companionship of a dog during these tough times. Research shows pets can benefit our mental health and can help us combat loneliness – both increasing challenges during the pandemic.

Our work, in partnership with veterinarians, data scientists and other experts across Mars Petcare, is our way of giving back. Here are 5 ways we're driving science to help veterinarians and owners give puppies a healthy start in life:

1.    Analysing puppy DNA to spot any potential health problems

As part of the Banfield Pet Hospitals Optimum Wellness Plan®, the Wisdom Panel health screening provides insights into the genetic health of your dog and can identify their potential to develop numerous high-risk conditions. Since 2019, more than 3% of Wisdom Panel results for puppies on Optimum Wellness Plans® have come back with actionable insights related to medication response, immune system, and blood disorders.  Without the health screening, potentially harmful problems such as bleeding disorders or sensitivity to certain medications could be missed and owners and veterinarians are able to act sooner to prevent ill health. We’ve been able to run more than 287,000 of these genetic tests since the beginning of 2020.

2.    Analysing dogs’ scratching and licking patterns to help veterinarians diagnose possible skin conditions 

Unlike humans, puppies can’t tell us what’s wrong. But now, technology is giving them a voice. The Pet Insight Project is taking a deep dive into the scratching patterns of dogs to help veterinarians diagnose possible skin conditions. The Whistle activity monitor on their collar can pick up when a pup starts to scratch more often than usual and alert the owner. Recent Pet Insight Project data indicates the average dog diagnosed with a dermatological issue shows three times as much daily scratching as dogs with vet-verified healthy skin. This is particularly useful, knowing Banfield Pet Hospitals saw a 5.2% increase in pets diagnosed with skin conditions in 2020 and that skin allergy treatments administered in April 2020 rose 58% year-on-year. 

3.     Ensuring puppies grow at a healthy rate

Pet obesity had reached epidemic levels before the coronavirus pandemic, and unfortunately, lockdown restrictions have only aggravated the problem.  Ensuring puppies get the right balance of nutrition and exercise to allow them to grow at a healthy rate is vital for their overall health. Our partnership with Banfield Pet Hospital and the University of Liverpool’s Royal Canin Weight Management Clinic led to the first puppy growth charts, which are helping veterinarians and owners monitor puppies’ healthy development and identify the ideal weight they should maintain in adulthood. 

4.    Supporting puppies’ microbiome 

Learning more about gut bacteria is helping us to keep puppies healthy. Known as the microbiome, this microscopic community in a pet’s digestive system is vital to overall health. An imbalance can lead to problems like gum and skin disease, diabetes or diarrhea. Our researchers have looked at the changes that happen in puppies’ microbiome throughout their first weeks of life: from the initial phase when puppies are only fed maternal milk to when they can start having solid food and then move into their new home, away from their mother and their siblings. These insights are helping us better understand how we can support the healthy development of puppies’ microbiome.

5.    Understanding puppies’ critical socialisation phase

Our research shows puppies as young as 8 weeks learn about their world from our emotional cues. They rely on our responses to guide their own behaviours and learn what is safe without getting hurt. This is an important part of their socialisation phase, which occurs around 3-12 weeks of age. The experiences puppies have during their first weeks of life (negative or positive!), can have a strong impact on their behaviour later in life. But socialising has been hard during lockdown, so here are a few tips from Dr. Fiona Patterson to help socialise your puppy until coronavirus restrictions are lifted.