Carel du Marchie Sarvaas Volume 52, Issue 06, Page 10 | March 08, 2022
Carel du Marchie Sarvaas, executive director at HealthforAnimals, highlights some latest developments in veterinary diagnostics and how they can benefit veterinarians as pet numbers grow.
With pet populations rising rapidly in many parts of the world, it is little surprise that veterinarians can feel overwhelmed by the daunting task of providing the level of quality care and attention that all our pets need.
More than two million people adopted a pet during the UK’s COVID-19 lockdowns, and almost a quarter of all cats now owned by Australians were acquired since the beginning of the pandemic.
As a result, almost half of veterinarians report that they are facing higher caseloads than ever, creating a bottleneck for their services. They face a dilemma of turning away new pet owners or spending less time on each pet.
Fortunately, new developments in diagnostics are helping to alleviate this pressure and allow veterinarians to see and treat more pets quicker, to keep pace with growing demand. For example, breakthroughs in technology are delivering accurate diagnoses more quickly for pet diseases, which means veterinarians can start treatment sooner and reduce the severity of illnesses.
Diagnostic tools that make use of algorithm-based technologies, for instance, can detect the eggs of parasites such as worms in fecal samples, reducing the potential risk of human error and accelerating diagnosis and treatment. Artificial intelligence algorithms have also successfully detected Addison’s disease in dogs – a life-threatening condition – with an accuracy greater than 99%. We are only just scratching the surface of what innovative diagnostic technologies can achieve for veterinary care worldwide.
Future developments, such as molecular diagnostics, could prove to be game-changers, allowing veterinarians to make highly precise diagnoses through analysis of biological signals in genetic code and proteins to fine-tune the treatments needed.
Secondly, more rapid diagnostics will help reduce backlogs in veterinary care, allowing veterinarians to test samples immediately at their practices and deliver treatments earlier, saving owners both time and money, and sparing their pets from prolonged illness. Microfluidic chips, for instance, can analyze extremely small volumes of fluid, such as blood, providing rapid, accurate and early detection of diseases or conditions in pets, without the need to send samples to laboratories.
These technologies will not only mean earlier and more effective treatments for pets, but peace of mind for owners who can rest assured that their pets are getting the treatments they need, when they need them, thanks to improved diagnostics.
Finally, innovative diagnostics are also transforming how veterinarians can deliver care, significantly boosting the welfare of pets and owners alike for the future.
Artificial intelligence can process vastly greater volumes of data and information for veterinarians, allowing for probability-based diagnoses that pave the way for preventive health care, even before symptoms emerge.
These tools can help veterinarians determine the likelihood a pet may face a particular disease given its age, medical history, weight, and other indicators.
Such developments represent a significant transformation in veterinary medicine and would require both owners and regulators to start accepting diagnoses based on probability, rather than clinical symptoms and examinations. But as pets are increasingly seen as integral members of our families and households, the way they are cared for is evolving as well. Annual spending by pet owners on veterinary services is growing each year, jumping in the UK from £3.3 million in 2016 to nearly £5 million in 2019.
The pressure is now on equipping veterinarians to respond to this growing commitment among owners to pet health and welfare. Better diagnostics will not only accelerate veterinary services, but also help safeguard the benefits pets bring to owners by providing faster, more accurate and more impactful care.
This will help reduce the impact of long, drawn-out treatments on pets, pet owners and their environments, and ensure that the growing pet population remains sustainable and manageable by veterinarians across the world.
As increasingly fully fledged members of the household, owners expect a high level of care and attention for their pets. Veterinarians can continue to provide this with the diagnostic technologies of the future.