Dogs can brighten up your day with their silly faces and companionship. But what about when your best friend is sick? Dog owners often wish their pet could tell them exactly where it hurts and when.
With wearable monitor Vetrax, you and your veterinarian can access actionable insights and data to see what’s truly bothering your dog, from ear infections to chronic conditions. “What we’re trying to do here is basically give a voice to your dog to communicate how they’re feeling,” says CEO Marcel Sarzen.
“What’s unique about Vetrax, compared to other animal wearables out there, is that it quantifies behaviors,” he explains. “For example, think of a dog that has a bad allergy. It’s constantly scratching. With Vetrax, we can actually quantify the number of seconds per day that the dog is exhibiting that behavior. The veterinarian can act on that information to know the dog is basically communicating that they’ve got a problem.”
Available at this time only by prescription from your veterinarian, the domino-sized sensor gets attached to the dog’s collar and transmits detailed data on things like head shaking, scratching, physical activity, drinking and more to a cloud-based platform connected to your home’s wifi through bluetooth. The sensor can store up to five days of data.
Sarzen first got the idea through an unlikely, yet related source — his diabetic mother, who kept having low glucose incidents before the smartphone era. At the time he thought of a wrist watch that would sense different warning attributes like extreme perspiration and heartbeat changes and alert her of the incoming episode (similar to today’s Apple Watch and similar wearables).
Following a stint in the animal health sector in 2014, Sarzen dusted off that idea and put his engineering background to work. The sensor works on a 3-dimensional axis to catch movements like head shaking, which can indicate an ear infection.
To help set a baseline for the sensors and build out their algorithms, the Vetrax team conducted a study where they filmed 500 dogs wearing the device.
“The sensor uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to come up with an optimal algorithm for each of those specific behaviors,” says Sarzen. “It picks up what’s going on second by second — for example, you know that the scratch occurred from noon to 3 p.m. in the afternoons. It contains the digital signature of scratching, shaking, walking, running, resting, and a whole pipeline of other behavioral algorithms.”
The app also has details on certain common chronic conditions, like osteoarthritis, to let the dog owner know what they should expect, track treatment and new behaviors. Once the veterinarian onboards the dog, they can add parameters like age, weight, breed, sex, and others to set up thresholds for their profile.
The startup is an Accelerate portfolio company of Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). They raised a $3.5 million funding round in October of 2015, but have not raised outside capital since. They have grown by building strategic partnerships with veterinarians and Hill’s Pet Nutrition, where the sensor is paired with their products.
“We are at a point where we’re looking into different business models, not only just the partner model. Another exciting area that we’re building into right now is working with clinical research organizations for clinical trials for dogs. We’re getting ready to launch services down that path,” says Sarzen.