5 min read

Innovations in Pet Health: Summer 2023 Edition


By Tim Falk

Published: 07/07/2023, edited: 07/12/2023

Reviewed by a licensed veterinary professional: Dr. Linda Simon, MVB MRCVS

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Welcome to the latest edition of Innovations in Pet Health! Twice a year, Wag!’s editorial team compiles this fascinating look at the latest news and research in the pet health space. We cast our eyes over dozens of scientific studies to find the most important and interesting developments that pet parents need to know.

In this edition, we’ll look back at pet health studies published in the first half of 2023 to help you provide top-tier TLC to your fur family.

white samoyed dog sitting in a kitchen sniffing a cut-up green bell pepper in a yellow steel dog bowl

New study shows vet-formulated vegan diets are safe and nutritious for dogs

In our last edition, we featured a study that found more pet parents are searching for info about vegan diets for dogs. This issue, we found a study that indicates those pet parents might be onto something.

According to a University of Illinois study published in March 2023, vet-formulated vegan diets can provide adequate nutrition for dogs. This study investigated the digestibility of 2 human-grade, commercially available vegan diets, both of which are lightly cooked.

Here’s a quick summary of the findings:

  • The 2 vegan diets met AAFCO standards for “complete and balanced” nutrition.
  • Dogs fed the vegan diet had lower cholesterol and blood triglyceride levels, which could prevent weight gain.
  • The fecal samples of dogs fed the vegan diet had lower levels of compounds that contribute to odor. (A fancy way of saying their poop wasn’t as stinky as other dogs’!)

Thinking of switching your dog to a vegan diet? Hold the leash — the diets tested were formulated by veterinary nutritionists, while homemade vegan diets are unlikely to contain all the nutrients dogs need.

a ginger cat cuddling and licking the cheek of a tabby cat

Purebred cats have a higher risk of disease than mixed-breed cats

The theory of hybrid vigor — essentially, that mixed-breed pets are generally healthier than their purebred counterparts — has been doing the rounds in dog circles for decades. And now there’s a new study out of Sweden that suggests there might be some truth to this theory after all.

Published in March 2023, the study examined data from Sweden’s largest pet insurance provider and assessed the morbidity of around 550,000 insured cats. Interestingly, the results showed that purebred cats were more likely than crossbred cats to develop disease in most of the 24 disease categories studied.

In particular, purebreds had the highest level of risk in the following disease categories:

  • Female reproductive issues
  • Heart disease
  • Complications from surgery
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Immunological diseases

But crossbred cats didn’t come out on top in all categories. The study also showed that crossbred cats had a higher risk of developing endocrine, skin, and mobility issues than purebred cats.

Researchers concluded that a more detailed look into the causes of morbidity is needed. They’re also using the insurance data to develop predictive models that can be used in a veterinary setting to predict the probability of certain diseases.

Find the purrfect pet insurance plan for your fur-babies with our pet insurance comparison tool.

hand holding a cotton swab up to the nose of a black and brown beagle dog

New test can predict a dog’s risk of bleeding and bruising post-surgery

Sighthound breeds — including Greyhounds and Irish Wolfhounds — have a higher risk of developing a bleeding condition called delayed post-operative hemorrhage (DEPOH). Until recently, experts weren't sure what caused DEPOH, making detection and prevention difficult.

The genetic mutation behind DEPOH was recently discovered by a group of researchers at Washington State University, who published their findings in a February 2023 paper. The discovery also led to the development of a new test called DEPOHGEN, which can detect the genetic mutation in surgical candidates.

Pet parents can order an at-home cheek swab test or ask their veterinarian about administering a blood test. If dogs test positive for DEPOH, surgeons can administer drugs to prevent excessive blood loss during and after surgery.

Researchers hope this test will become widely available and recommended as part of routine wellness check-ups, giving pet parents additional peace of mind any time their dog is set to undergo surgery.

For more information about DEPOHGEN and how to order a test, head to the Washington State University website.

hand wearing a blue surgical glove handling small vials of blood test in a lab

New liquid biopsy method effective in early detection of 30+ cancers in pets

The “C word” — cancer — is enough to strike fear into the heart of any pet parent. But now there’s a new way to detect canine cancer early, ensuring that potentially life-saving treatment can start as soon as possible.

Molecular diagnostics company PetDx is the brand behind OncoK9, a non-invasive blood test that can detect over 30 different types of canine cancer. A PetDx study published in January 2023 tested the liquid biopsy method on 350+ dogs already diagnosed with cancer, with promising results.

As part of the study, researchers reviewed previous medical records to learn how the cancer was diagnosed initially. The results?

  • Just 4% of dogs were diagnosed with cancer during a routine wellness exam.
  • 8% of dogs received a diagnosis while being treated for another condition.
  • Most dogs (88%) weren’t diagnosed until after symptoms appeared — by which time the cancer can potentially be well advanced.

Meanwhile, OncoK9 detected cancer in about half the dogs with preclinical disease. It’s hoped that by making the test available as part of routine wellness exams, early detection of a wide range of canine cancers could become a reality.

OncoK9 is currently available at 1,400+ veterinary clinics across the US. The test is recommended for dogs aged 7 years and older.

hand holding a syringe in front of a brown dog

New injection for pancreatitis in dogs approved by the FDA

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is a serious and common dog health condition. Its symptoms include dehydration, vomiting, fever, and collapse, and it can be fatal if left untreated. But despite it being a widespread problem, veterinary treatment up until now has largely focused on supportive care.

However, that looks set to change after the FDA granted provisional approval to Panoquell-CA1, an injectable drug designed to manage symptoms of acute onset pancreatitis. The drug's active ingredient, fuzapladib sodium, stops inflammatory cells from adhering to the pancreas.

A US clinical trial of the drug published in November 2022 found that of 36 dogs suffering from acute pancreatitis, 17 that were treated with fuzapladib sodium had a significant reduction in clinical signs.

Fuzapladib sodium has been approved for use in dogs in Japan since 2018. In May 2023, Panoquell-CA1 officially became available as a treatment option to vets in the US. 

Despite the drug's provisional approval, the FDA says veterinarians should advise pet parents of the drug's potential side effects, which range from loss of appetite to liver disease.

person with a brown curly ponytail in a lab wearing white scrubs and looking through a microscope

Looking ahead

Several interesting new studies have received funding for future research:

  • Morris Animal Foundation is funding several feline health studies on intestinal lymphoma, the genetic causes of tooth resorption, oral squamous cell carcinoma, and feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome, among others.

  • Researchers at Ontario Veterinary College, the University of Guelph, are studying whether porphysome nanotechnology and light therapy can be used to treat oral squamous cell carcinoma in cats.

  • Morris Animal Foundation is funding 3 studies into ear infections in dogs in 2023. These studies focus on prevention and different treatment options for otitis externa.

  • A separate Morris Animal Foundation-funded study will explore the holistic prevention of obesity among working dogs.

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