The latest on pet wearables

November 13, 2020
Caitlin McCafferty, Assistant Editor
Caitlin McCafferty, Assistant Editor

Gaining steadily in popularity, pet wearables provide veterinary teams with in-depth insight into patient health and offer owners peace of mind that their pet is receiving optimal care.

Among the many changes in veterinary practice brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, veterinary professionals are relying on technology more than ever to obtain deeper insights into the health of their patients. For example, telehealth puts the veterinary team in clients’ homes, allowing them to observe patients in their typical environment instead of having to rely on the owner’s description of issues.

According to Lisa Lippman, DVM, lead veterinarian at Off Leash Veterinary Care in New York, New York, one of the other relatively new technologies veterinary teams are now using more often to gain better patient insights is pet wearables—special collars or medallions that are attached to a pet’s collar to help track pet behavior, safety, and health. Far beyond the Fitbit, today’s wearables can provide GPS tracking and monitoring of resting and sleep patterns, vital signs, licking and scratching behavior, and more.

In a lecture sponsored by Sure Petcare at the November Fetch dvm360® virtual conference, Lippman shared the benefits and challenges of wearables.

Technology of wearables

According to Lippman, most wearables on the market today offer some or all of the following features:

  • RFID (radiofrequency identification) sensors
  • GPS trackers
  • Motion sensors
  • Bluetooth
  • Accelerometer sensors
  • Cameras/lights

Lippman noted that wearables can also be used in conjunction with other connected devices, such as pet doors and feeders, to get more a comprehensive view of pet health.

“With the wide selection of wearables on the market, you can easily find one that functions for you or your clients with a design that you love,” Lippman said, “because, let’s face it, fashion and function should go together.”

The size of the global pet wearable market was valued at $1.6 billion in 2019 and is only expected to grow due to increasing awareness of pet health, Lippman said. “We really cannot underestimate how many people have these technologies and will be using them, and [if you haven’t yet] you’ll be seeing them in practice.”

Benefits of wearables

One benefit of wearables is the ability to track a pet’s behavior. Without wearables, we rely on our clients to provide information about the pet, Lippman said, hoping that the client is as detailed and accurate as possible. With wearables, on the other hand, the veterinarian can simply open the data section on the app and instantaneously receive crucial insight for diagnostic and treatment planning.

“I often ask [clients], ‘On a scale from 1 to 10, how itchy is your pet?’ and they give me a lengthy answer that is not 1 to 10,” Lipmann said. “So, I have ask again ‘OK, what’s a number?’ How amazing would it be if I could see that data right in front of me?”

The insight wearables can give has the potential to help veterinary teams get a better scope on how to match their patients’ needs. Although technicians cannot make a diagnosis, by using the app, they can get a pretty good idea what is wrong and what the next steps will be.

Another benefit of wearables is their ability to track a pet’s sleeping pattern. By using the app, both veterinary teams and clients can investigate disruptive factors that could be causing a pet to lose sleep. “At night, it is almost impossible to know how well your dog is sleeping since you’re most likely asleep,” explained Lippman. “The nightly sleep score enables you to investigate what might be affecting their sleep patterns.”

Vital signs are an another important offering that wearables provide. Wearables offer a noninvasive way to monitor patients even when they cannot come to the practice. Wearables can provide a lengthy history to aid patient assessment.

Challenges

Although wearables clearly have many upsides for pet health, they can be a little costly for some clients. In addition to the cost of the unit, which Lippman said ranges from $90 and $150, some companies require a monthly subscription typically ranging from $5 to $10. In addition, the advanced technology in most of the devices consumes a lot of power, so they tend to require frequent charging cycles.

Lippman also advised attendees to explain to clients that a wearable does not replace a microchip. Owners should view microchipping and wearables not as an option of one or the other, but the need for both. “I always stress that while a wearable helps you keep tabs on your pet,” said Lippman, “it really should not replace a microchip. Microchipping is really an important way to help make sure that your pet is returned home safely if they get lost.”

For more insight on wearables and other modern veterinary technologies, it’s not too late to register for the conference. Sessions will be available on demand through November 28. Click here to register.