Species-specific medications, AI and oral medications for feline diabetes were big news at last month’s Veterinary Meeting and Expo
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
If your veterinarian or favorite veterinary technician was out of town a few weeks ago, it’s likely they were attending the Veterinary Meeting and Expo to learn about advances in veterinary medicine, see new products and pick up new skills from speakers who are tops in their fields. Innovations in oncology, pain management, pets with obesity, ways to treat neurological and behavioral problems in pets, new medications developed specifically for pets and the use of AI in the clinic were among the hundreds of sessions presented to veterinary professionals who treat every species -- from cats, dogs and horses to pythons, bearded dragons, otters and sea turtles.
For VMX Chief Veterinary Officer Dana Varble, DVM, CAE, what stood out were the advances in animal-specific medications. Available in 2022 was Solensia, a monoclonal antibody injection (uexpress.com/pets/pet-connection/2022/07/04) developed specifically for cats with osteoarthritis pain (fearfreehappyhomes.com/osteoarthritis-in-cats), followed last year by Librela, the same type of medication for dogs with joint pain.
While every medication has the potential for side effects, monoclonal antibodies appear to have safer and more predictable side effect profiles, Varble says. They are less likely to cause the types of liver and kidney issues that might be seen with long-term NSAID use, for instance, although they should be used cautiously in pets with neurologic disorders.
“What’s interesting is that we have it for cats and dogs before we have it for people,” Varble says.
Typically, it’s the other way around, with human medications being adapted for use in pets, but now companies are working on developing medications specifically for treating cats and dogs. They include a new class of oral hypoglycemic drugs -- one a pill and one a liquid -- for diabetic cats to replace insulin injections for managing blood sugar levels. Used in combination with appropriate diet, they may help to make life easier for people with diabetic cats.
Artificial intelligence in the veterinary clinic? It’s there, although robots aren’t yet diagnosing pets. Potential uses of AI include looking at radiographs, diagnostic tests and ear swabs to get results more quickly or to open up further areas of investigation.
One company has developed an app that uses AI to help evaluate feline expressions and determine the level of pain the cat may be experiencing. Veterinarians and owners can use what’s called a grimace scale to evaluate pain in cats, but it takes some training to recognize certain cat behaviors and expressions and learn how to read them. To make that information more accessible, Varble says, the company has come up with a way use AI to “teach” phones to look at pictures of a cat’s face and determine an accurate score on the grimace scale.
And AI is being used to generate medical records, relieving some of the workload on veterinarians and technicians so they can spend more time directly caring for pets.
One hope at the 2023 gathering was that a Food and Drug Administration-approved medication for feline infectious peritonitis would soon be available. That has not yet come to fruition -- a disappointment to Varble -- but she’s crossing her fingers that it will happen this year. “In Canada they’re using it quite extensively and getting some good data on it,” she says.
The takeaway for pet caregivers on both sides of the exam table is that more options for all kinds of treatments are becoming available, and they’re specifically designed to work for animals. They’re also more convenient. A monthly visit to the veterinarian for an injection may be easier for busy people to manage than trying to get a pill down a pet once or twice a day at a specific time.
“It’s the same thing with feline diabetes medications,” Varble says. “We have options that may fit with busy schedules or budgets that are challenged. We’re seeing not only more pathways, more ingenuity in pharmaceuticals, but also this increased need to address the needs of pet owners as far as convenience and reliability and even cost.”
How early to
Q: When should my new kitten be spayed? The vet wants to do it now, but she’s only 4 months old! Is that safe?
A: Your veterinarian is up to date on the latest recommendations for spaying and neutering kittens, and your question is timely because February is Feline Fix By Five Awareness Month. That’s “fix” as in spay or neuter by 5 months of age.
Kittens are precocious, and females can go into heat as early as 4 months old. Spaying them before sexual maturity not only prevents kittens having kittens, but also curbs certain health and behavior problems. Spaying greatly reduces the risk of mammary cancer in cats, and spaying and neutering also reduce the incidence of aggression, territorial marking and the loud yowling by females in heat.
People are often surprised to learn that kittens can be spayed or neutered when they are as young as 6 weeks as long as they weigh at least 2 pounds. And there are advantages to performing the surgery at a young age: Kittens are resilient, and they can bounce back from a surgery that would be more physically stressful for an older kitten or adult cat. Young kittens require less anesthesia as well because the procedure takes less time to perform.
Multiple studies have shown that kittens spayed at a young age had no negative differences in skeletal, physical or behavioral development. Shelters with early kitten spay and neuter programs can place kittens at a younger age -- when they’re still super cute -- and they don’t have to worry that those kittens won’t be altered in time to prevent “oops” litters. The practice is supported by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association, so your veterinarian is in good company. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
top farm dog
-- Skippy, a 4-year-old herding dog mix whose primary job is to move beef cattle on Donald and Laura Adams’ farm in Georgia, was named 2024 Farm Dog of the Year. The blend of border collie, Australian shepherd and Catahoula dog came to live with the Adamses after Donald was paralyzed from the neck down in an accident. He regained the ability to walk using two canes, but Skippy’s contribution to running the farm during and after his recovery was essential. “Being able to keep the cows and having something for me to live for every day ... she has contributed to that immensely,” he said in a press release. Skippy was a gift from P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA, which supports farmers and farm family members with physical, cognitive or illness-related disabilities. The $5,000 prize money and a year’s supply of Pro-Plan dog food was provided by Nestle-Purina PetCare. Three regional runners-up and a People’s Choice Pup were Cinco, from Utah; Meg, from West Virginia; Fancy, from Missouri; and Casper, from Georgia.
-- Are you a birdie beginner? Don’t jump into parrothood right away. Finches are a better choice for newbies. They are flashy, fast-moving and fun to watch, but know that they prefer you to look at but not handle them. Finches are social, so buy two or more, and provide a large cage with plenty of room for flight. Look for zebra, society or Gouldian finches, all known for attractive colors and patterns.
-- People who are facing the loss of a pet may wonder about the best way to handle their animal’s remains. Options include burial at a pet cemetery or at home (if local ordinances permit) or cremation with return of the ashes. The International Association of Pet Cemeteries and Crematories can provide information to help make a decision: iaopc.com/page/faq. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Bluesky at kimthornton.bsky.social. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.