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vHive head Alasdair Cook casts eye over digital tech in animal health

Animal Pharm analyst Sian Lazell spoke to our own Dr Alasdair Cook – to gain an overview of the digital technology space within the industry.

Sian Lazell: There are so many emerging technologies in animal health but what do you think is the most exciting type of technology being developed at the moment?

Alasdair Cook: The animal health arena is buzzing with new technologies – varying from innovative diagnostic testing and imaging, through to behavior and movement monitors and sensors for individual animals. These technologies provide new insights into the health of individual animals and contribute to the development of precision medicine, provided the output of these innovations has been validated and the data they create is actually used.

Among the tech becoming available for dogs, collar-mounted wearables that monitor movement, and hence enable different behaviors to be identified, offer great promise. Output may be used to monitor response to intervention – to analgesics for chronic osteoarthritis, for example – and to detect early signs of diseases as varied as otitis externa and diabetes mellitus. The promise that these will be cheap, robust, easy to use and deliver some valued insights on health to owners should see growing adoption.

SL: Do you think adoption of technology is slower or faster in either the pet or livestock sector? How do the two sectors compare and what do consumer attitudes look like in each?

AC: Livestock owners typically take pride in the health of the animals for which they are responsible and the productivity of these cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry etc. is directly associated with the profitability of the enterprise. Consequently, there is a financial driver to adopt technologies that monitor production and indicators of health – for example, rumination.

Therefore, adoption of proven technologies in livestock is more rapid and is a feature of precision farming. Furthermore, veterinarians engaged with livestock enterprises increasingly use data to inform their advice concerning herd health.

By contrast, most companion animals are considered to be healthy by their owners most of the time. Interventions that assist in diagnosis and treatment, whether laboratory tests or enhanced aids, are limited to the domain of the clinical veterinarian and there are fewer incentives to adopt and sustain use of technologies such as movement or behavior monitors.

However, there appears to be a latent and unsatisfied appetite among pet owners to learn more about their pets, especially when, for example, they are left alone. Another service is geo-location for lost, or even stolen, pets.

However, at present, problems such as short battery life and – especially for cats – the physical size of wearable technologies are apparent practical issues.

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