Weekly companion animal news: October 9, 2023

University of Florida opens nation’s first open-heart surgery program for dogs

The University of Florida’s College of Veterinary Medicine has launched what officials say is the country’s first-ever open-heart surgery program for dogs. It’s the only U.S. program dedicated to the mitral valve repair procedure, The Gainesville Sun reports. Access to the surgery is limited, as few veterinary surgery centers offer it, and it must be performed using cardiopulmonary bypass. Dog owners typically travel to other countries that have specific programs, such as Japan and the United Kingdom. Katsuhiro Matsuura, veterinary cardiac surgeon, leads the UF open-heart surgery program. He came from Japan to the College of Veterinary Medicine in July, joining the UF faculty as a clinical assistant professor. During his time as a veterinarian in Japan, he performed over 100 successful mitral valve surgical repairs and led a team that specialized in the procedure with a success rate of over 90%.

AAHA releases 2023 Technician Utilization Guidelines

Credentialed veterinary technicians are a valuable resource for a veterinary practice, but their skills, education and experience are often not used to their full potential. Practices where veterinarians rarely perform tasks that credentialed veterinary technicians do show an average revenue increase of 36%, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. The causes of poor utilization often stem from lack of knowledge about what tasks and procedures credentialed veterinary technicians can legally perform in their area. The 2023 AAHA Technician Utilization Guidelines outline steps veterinarians can take to improve credentialed veterinary technician utilization in their practice. The guidelines include an assessment tool for practices to measure their current technician utilization, as well as case studies demonstrating different levels of utilization.

Mars and Digitalis Ventures launch $300 million venture capital fund for pet health companies

Mars and Digitalis Ventures announced the launch of Companion Fund II, a $300 million dollar venture capital fund that will back founders whose companies are leveraging breakthrough science, technology and design to improve the lives of pets, pet owners and veterinarians. This fund follows the $100 million Companion Fund launched in 2018. Companion Fund II will provide venture capital to a range of enterprises developing veterinary diagnostics, veterinary medicine, information technologies, online platforms and more. The new fund will be independently managed by Digitalis Ventures and focus on both early and growth-stage startups. Plans are for the fund to invest in animal health companies based primarily in the United States and Europe.

Mars and Banfield announce $25,000 grant to create resource enabling access to care

Banfield Pet Hospital this week hosted its 22nd annual Pet Healthcare Industry Summit, where leaders convened to discuss issues related to access to veterinary care. Mars Veterinary Health and Banfield announced a $25,000 grant to the Veterinary Innovation Council to help build a dynamic website or repository of information on what services, programs and resources exist within the access to care space. “This new grant and resource will help veterinary professionals and pet owners more easily explore their options when providing and seeking care for pets,” said Alea Harrison, chief medical officer at Banfield.

Groups encourage veterinary professionals to take action for World Pet Obesity Awareness Day

October 11 is World Pet Obesity Awareness Day, the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention and the World Pet Obesity Association announced. Fifty-nine percent of dogs and 61% of cats in the United States were classified as overweight or having obesity in the 2022 State of Pet Obesity Report. During October, APOP and WPOA encourage veterinary professionals and pet owners to measure their pets’ health by performing a body condition score, weighing their pets and calculating daily calories to feed. The groups also ask veterinary professionals and pet owners to visit petobesityprevention.org to participate in their annual survey, which is open beginning October 11. Learn more here.

Growing acceptance brings medical cannabis closer to pets

The growing legality and acceptance of cannabis among humans has prompted thoughts about how the drug might help cats and dogs suffering from pain, anxiety and other ills. But veterinarians often face unclear rules around cannabis, which dissuades them from even talking about it, prompting many clients to dose their animals without professional guidance, the VIN News Service reports. Now, shifts in the legal landscape may give practitioners more latitude to not only discuss with clients the purported pros, cons and unknowns of cannabis use but to recommend, prescribe and administer it too. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in late August recommended easing federal restrictions on cannabis. Four states—California, Michigan, Nevada and Utah—have implemented laws specific to its use in veterinary medicine.

Ethos Discovery and Gallant Therapeutics collaborate on study evaluating stem cell therapy to treat pug dog encephalitis

The nonprofit research organization Ethos Discovery and Gallant Therapeutics, an animal health biotech company, are collaborating on the third study in an ongoing clinical trials program designed to investigate Gallant’s stem cell therapy as an effective and safe product to help pugs with necrotizing meningoencephalitis, also known as NME or pug dog encephalitis. NME is a devastating and often fatal autoimmune disease of the brain. While most pug dogs exhibit symptoms such as lethargy, behavioral changes, seizures, circling and visual deficits, between the ages of 1.5 and 2.5 years they are usually asymptomatic until advanced inflammation has already developed within the brain. By then, treatment options are limited. In the new study, Gallant Mesenchymal Stem Cells will be used to treat pugs with early-stage NME with the goal of preventing further brain damage, improving clinical signs and minimizing disease progression. More information is available online about enrollment in the study.

Implications of AI in veterinary medicine

Artificial intelligence and machine learning have the potential to change how veterinary medicine is practiced. They have been developed to help improve predictive analytics and diagnostic performance, thus supporting decision-making when practitioners analyze medical images. But unlike human medicine, no premarket screening of AI tools is required for veterinary medicine. This raises important ethical and legal considerations, particularly when it comes to conditions with a poor prognosis where such interpretations may lead to a decision to euthanize. It makes it even more vital for the veterinary profession to develop best practices to protect care teams, patients and clients, according to Dr. Eli Cohen, a clinical professor of diagnostic imaging at the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Cohen presented a webinar, “Do No Harm: Ethical and Legal Implications of A.I.,” which recently ran on AVMA’s digital education platform.