The power of data: preventing and predicting pets’ diseases
Our cutting-edge science leads the way in exploring how we can help veterinary professionals and pet owners change how cats and dogs are cared for now and in the future through preventive pet healthcare.
We want to catch diseases early
Pets may not be able to tell us when they start to feel ill. By identifying illness as soon as possible, we can reduce the impact that disease can have on pets' wellbeing.
Just like humans, our pets face health challenges that can negatively impact their wellbeing and quality of life:
- Obesity – the main threat to pet health, currently affecting more than half of all pets in the US and UK
- Diabetes – which, when uncontrolled, can cause blindness, seizures and kidney failure in pets
- Chronic Kidney Disease – the second most common cause of death in cats over 5
- Osteoarthritis – it can develop at any age, causing cats and dogs pain and even lameness
Experts around the world agree a preventive healthcare approach is key for improving the wellbeing and quality of life of humans and animals alike. But how?
Preventive health means taking measures to:
- Prevent disease before it appears by staying up to date with vaccinations and eating an appropriate and balanced diet. Both actions lower the risk of developing some diseases.
- Identify health problems as early as possible. For pet owners, this means ensuring pets get regular health screenings or dental check-ups. Owners and veterinarians can identify and manage problems before they get worse.
For researchers, preventive pet healthcare can mean exploring data and running studies in search of early indicators of disease. This can help veterinarians prevent and even predict disease, leading to improved personalised pet care based on a pet’s risk of suffering from certain diseases.
How do we get there?
In collaboration with veterinarians and experts across Mars Petcare, our scientists are conducting trials and combing through vast databases to hunt out disease indicators called biomarkers. These subtle changes that flag differences in a pet’s physiology, biochemistry, genetics or microbiome underpin new diagnostic approaches that can help predict disease. This way, veterinarians are better equipped to prevent illnesses instead of simply treating them.
We are also analysing insights from Whistle FIT activity monitors to identify early changes in behaviour or activity.
Our state-of–the-art Petcare Science Engine is enabling our scientists to better understand pets’ health needs and build evidence-based pet care products and services such as diagnostics.Read about our Petcare Science Engine
Artificial intelligence is helping us tackle the #1 killer of cats over 5 years old
Waltham researchers teamed up with Banfield® Pet Hospital, Antech Diagnostics and the Royal Veterinary College to develop a diagnostic tool that accurately predicts a cat’s chances of developing chronic kidney disease up to two years before any clinical signs. Until this breakthrough, veterinarians would only be able to diagnose this disease once almost 70% of the kidney was damaged.
RenalTechTM was developed using anonymized medical data from more than 150,000 Banfield Pet Hospital® patient visits over 20 years. It now predicts chronic kidney disease with greater than 95% accuracy.
Thanks to this tool, veterinarians across the US and Canada have screened around 350 000 cats. These insights are giving veterinarians the chance to act early and start personalised care paths that may help cats live healthier lives.
Described as a paradigm shift for veterinary medicine, RenalTech™ allows veterinarians to move from disease detection to disease prediction, giving veterinarians and pet owners the chance to intervene and choose personalised pet care plans as early as possible – improving the lives of cats and redefining preventive pet care.
More about preventive health
Slowing down gum disease in dogs
Gum disease is one of the most common illnesses veterinarians see in both cats and dogs. Almost 1 in 5 US dogs and cats suffer from it, according to Banfield Pet Hospital figures. It's also the most common condition affecting dogs in the UK. We have used genomics or DNA analysis to discover differences in the oral microbiome of dogs with healthy gums and those with early signs of gum disease.
We have also developed a non-invasive, digital method to measure some of the factors causing gum disease in dogs and cats: plaque and calculus.
Together with our Banfield Pet Hospital colleagues, we have analysed how widespread gum or periodontal disease is across 48 of the most popular US dog breeds. Different breeds are affected in different ways, and our research has shown that if left untreated, this condition develops quickly and advances even faster as Miniature Schnauzers age. The same study also showed gum disease developed even when there were no visible signs of gingivitis, the first stage of the condition.
Pet health trackers can reveal insights into our pets’ wellbeing
Our colleagues at the Pet Insight Project are connecting dogs’ behaviour data recorded through Whistle trackers with data from Banfield® Pet Hospital medical records to detect previously unseen patterns that could be early illness indicators. Thanks to a new feature, the Pet Insight Project team discovered that dogs with more than 500 seconds of daily scratching over 7 days are often dogs with dermatological issues. This helps owners seek veterinary care earlier, which means they can better care for their dogs.
Waltham researchers teamed up with the Pet Insight Project and the Energetics lab at the University of Aberdeen to determine the calorie burn of dogs while wearing Whistle devices. Their work led to an improved Whistle Food Portion Calculator, translating a dog’s characteristics and activity into tailored portion recommendations to help keep dogs at a healthy weight. These recommendations are based on the dog’s age, breed, weight, and activity level or calories burned. These are crucial insights for owners at a time when 1 in 3 dogs in the US is overweight.
Dog DNA tests: a key piece in the personalised pet healthcare puzzle
More than 2 million dogs worldwide have had their DNA analysed using the Wisdom Panel™ dog DNA tests, giving dog owners a deeper understanding their dogs’ unique ancestry, physical traits and predisposition to certain genetic disorders. On average, 15% of the dogs tested in 2020 were found to have at least one genetic mutation associated with a health condition. Armed with these valuable genetic insights for individual pets, veterinary professionals can develop the right nutritional or healthcare plans to reduce the likelihood or impact of these illnesses.
Every business has data, but it's how you're driven by it that counts. Successful leaders rely on data to make informed choices, teams use it to better understand their customers and market, and it's a valuable tool to help solve business problems - and that's just the tip of the iceberg.
If you asked me to name the greatest health challenges facing our pets today, obesity would be top of the list. Currently more than half of all pets in the US and UK are considered overweight or obese, making it a hugely common and concerning problem.
One thing I've observed working with veterinarians in our R&D team is that their role is often like a detective's. When seeking a diagnosis, vets must follow "clues" reported by a pet's owner or handler, or found during a physical examination.
Prevention is better than cure. It's one of society's oldest adages.