Your pup is not himself this week. He’s cranky, sluggish, not eating and doesn’t even want to engage in his favorite activity: surgically removing the squeaker from a new toy.
“We call it A.D.R., ain’t doing right,” says Lisa Lee, Senior Vice President, Global Diagnostics at Zoetis. “Our pets can’t tell us what’s wrong, but as a pet owner, you know when something is off.”
So, you call your veterinarian, who squeezes you in at the end of the day. She does blood work, takes the fecal and urine samples you collected at home, sends them out for analysis, and the wait begins.
Look inside: Why veterinarians need game-changing diagnostics
Getting an accurate picture of a pet’s health has traditionally been a time-consuming effort. Most veterinarians do not have an expert clinical pathologist or parasitologist on staff, so a pet’s samples must be properly collected, stored and sent to specialists at reference labs. Sometimes, samples can be analyzed by the technicians in the practice, taking them away from their primary role of taking care of the patients and pet owners. An estimated 90 million fecal tests1 alone are performed each year in the U.S.
“The information gathered through diagnostics is critical to prevent and treat disease and to have the most positive outcome for your pet,” says Lisa. “Any delay in access to that information can mean a delay in treatment and the management of your animal’s health.”
Zoetis’ Diagnostics team is re-writing that scenario. To provide accurate, trustworthy diagnostic results in hours instead of days or weeks, the team has partnered with leading artificial intelligence (AI) experts and built global teams of specialists to introduce innovative diagnostic services that support veterinarians around the world. Among these game-changing tools is a global consultation service, or a virtual lab, that gives veterinarians access to clinical specialists around the globe from 14 clinical specialties – whenever it’s most convenient for the veterinary practice.
“We know the daily struggles veterinarians face: staff shortages, more pets that need care and increasing demands from pet owners for faster results. All of that leads to incredible stress,” says Dr. Richard Goldstein, a veterinarian and Vice President and Chief Medical Officer for Global Diagnostics at Zoetis. “We aim to help take the pressure off by giving veterinary practices more efficient ways to find out exactly what’s going on with a pet’s health – and by giving them real-time access to clinical specialists who can consult with them on even the scariest cases.”
Look closer: Bringing deep machine learning and clinical experts together through a Virtual Lab
In 2020, Zoetis launched Vetscan Imagyst®, a first-of-its-kind technology that allows a veterinarian or technician to find out if a pet has parasites simply by placing a pet’s fecal sample on a slide, loading it into a scanner and stepping back while the machine does the rest. A series of images are uploaded to the cloud, and AI algorithms analyze them based on Zoetis’ global fecal database. Within minutes, a comprehensive report is in the veterinarian’s hands.
Experts engineered the diagnostics platform to work for other analyses as well. Today, Vetscan Imagyst uses AI, not just for fecal analysis, but also to analyze blood from dogs and cats and a pet’s skin, which may be infected with bacteria or yeast. It is also used to send samples to clinical pathologists around the world through digital cytology and offers fecal AI analyses for horses.
“Can you imagine having to wait a week to find out if your dog or cat has a serious diagnosis or disease?” says Lisa. “With digital cytology and AI-powered diagnostics, the veterinarian can talk to a person on the first visit, rather than have that anxiety build up for days. Even if the news is difficult, real-time results can help the pet owner and veterinarian make the best decisions about the animal’s care.”
AI is one of the most recognized advancements in technology today, but “we realize people have mixed feelings about it,”2 says Dr. Goldstein. “Vetscan Imagyst is a very high-level AI known as deep machine learning. Every Vetscan Imagyst application has been validated by human experts – clinical pathologists, parasitologists. All those validations are public and published. The technology is also backed up in real time by human experts. If there is a question about the AI results or you need to look deeper, you send the results off digitally to a human expert for review.”
Vetscan Imagyst is only one piece of the picture. The ZoetisDx digital platform brings together technology and a Virtual Lab of medical experts who provide veterinary practices with a reliable, central hub to get the information they need – and fast. If a veterinarian has questions about a Vetscan Imagyst test result or wants to dig deeper on a topic, the practitioner can connect with a global expert and set up a convenient time for a consultation based on the veterinarian’s schedule.
“We’ve gone beyond creating fast, accurate diagnostics,” says Dr. Goldstein. “We’ve added extra layers of support by bringing specialist-level expertise into the practice in real time. It’s the modern way to manage patient care.”
Look ahead: The escalating need for diagnostics
Jerry Martin is Head of Global Diagnostics R&D at Zoetis. He grew up on a large farm with pets, pigs and cattle and knew from an early age the challenges involved in taking care of animals.
“Veterinarians need solutions that are elegant and allow them to get the job done with less effort,” Jerry says. “That’s my team’s job – to research and develop the newest technology so veterinarians and their staffs can focus more on patient care.”
And the demand for care continues to grow. In the U.S. alone, pet ownership has spiked significantly during the past decade. In 2023, nearly 87 million homes have at least one pet.3 Pet ownership is rising globally as well in places like China, Brazil and Europe, particularly in millennial (ages 20s to late 30s) households, according to research from HealthforAnimals.4
More pets drive the need for more veterinary care in an already-stretched profession. “But because Zoetis is the leading animal health company, we’re in an excellent position to develop the next innovations that will support veterinarians and really change pet care,” says Jerry.
The possibilities are wide open for Jerry and his team. “With AI built into the current diagnostics, we can see patterns over time, learn and refine results even more. We also continue to study and understand biomarkers so we can develop diagnostics that better predict and prevent disease. And we’re investigating opportunities that will make diagnostics less and less invasive for patients.”
Diagnostic innovations that emphasize wellness and proactive medicine are also key to moving the needle on how long and how well pets live. But the complex journey is worth it, says Dr. Goldstein. “We’re interested in providing a service for the veterinary practice so they will be able to practice medicine better, feel better about their jobs, and make the pet owner and the pet feel better.”
Published on August 21, 2023
1 WIRED Brand Lab | Cloud to Clinic: Zoetis' Vision for Veterinary Practices | WIRED
2 Ethical concerns mount as AI takes bigger decision-making role – Harvard Gazette
3 Pet Ownership Statistics and Facts in 2023 – Forbes Advisor
4 Global Trends in the Pet Population - HealthforAnimals