A new app launched by pet supplements provider VetPlus claims to help owners recognise the signs of underdiagnosed Alzheimer’s-style cognitive dysfunction and stress in dogs and cats.

By tracking their behaviour, PLASID could help earlier diagnosis of Stress and Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS), which is similar to Alzheimer’s in humans and tends to go unnoticed or unreported.

It could also alert owners to stress, anxiety and phobias in their animals, all of which can negatively impact quality of life.

Research has found that, despite its high prevalence, CDS remains underdiagnosed, with some key symptoms being mistaken for old age.

In younger pets, vet practices and animal behaviour experts are seeing a rise in cases of separation anxiety with many families and returning-to-the office workers leaving their lockdown-born pets for the first time. A 2022 study by charity the PDSA and YouGov reported that 1.1 million dogs across the UK are showing signs of stress when left alone.

In response to this PLASID has been launched to help pet owners to identify, monitor and manage behaviour changes in their cats and dogs. 

Crucially, the app – which was developed by Tangerine Group-owned VetPlus alongside industry-renowned animal behaviour specialists Company of Animals and app developer Arch – encourages pet owners to approach their vet practice to discuss these changes, however subtle, meaning that they can get the correct diagnosis and treatment plan. 

Pet data

By filling out an initial in-built diagnostic screening assessment questionnaire on their pet’s behaviour when signing up for the free app, pet owners will be alerted to any potential behavioural or cognitive issues. Their vet can look at the data to get a quick and clear overview of the issue. 

If a vet identifies an issue they can recommend a treatment programme for the pet owner tailored to each pet’s needs. 

PLASID by VetPlus

If recommended by the vet, pet owners can scan the on-pack QR code on VetPlus’s nutritional supplements CALMEX or AKTIVAIT to unlock a host of premium app content which will help pet owners to better understand and manage their pet’s condition through training programmes and environmental modification. 

The app also contains tailored expert advice and video content on signs to look out for, depending on the species and condition. Users can connect with other pet owners via a chat function and access a playlist of specially curated calming music. 

PLASID has the ability to track behaviour over time, allowing owners to monitor their pet’s progress and present information back to their vet. 

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It is the brainchild of Rachel Eaton, research and development team leader at VetPlus. She said: “We know that it can be difficult to understand the significance of behaviour changes in our pets. For years, research has shown the ongoing prevalence and under-diagnosis of the symptoms of CDS. Yet, early recognition and diagnosis is vital in preserving brain function and personality. Although it is a progressive condition with no cure, it can be managed if caught early. 

“Adding to this, a generation of younger dogs and cats born during the pandemic are experiencing separation anxiety and stress stemming from a lack of socialisation, which can also be managed via environmental changes and interventions. 

“At VetPlus we believe the best source of advice about your pet is your vet. The goal behind PLASID is to support diagnosis by prompting pet owners to think about their pet’s behaviours when filling out the diagnostic assessment and encourage them to seek further advice. 

“From speaking with vets during the development process, we know that it can often be difficult for owners to recall subtle behaviour changes on the spot, so this app can really help vets during their consultations. 

“We also recognised that the internet is the first port of call for most of us looking for information and advice, often from our smartphones. But there is a lot of misinformation and conflicting views online about these conditions and how to best manage them.

“We’ve worked with our team of in-house qualified vets and behaviour specialists at Company of Animals to create a knowledge hub where pet owners can access up to date information, management techniques and connect with other pet owners.”

A consultation without a consultation

Wendy Cummins, head of behaviour at Yorkshire-based Donaldson’s Vets, took part in the beta testing phase for the app.

“I think PLASID is brilliant and I’ve told so many of my clients about it already,” she said. “As a practitioner specialising in behaviour, it’s extremely useful to have something that I can look at and get the information I need to provide the right advice – it’s almost a consultation without a consultation. 

“Even if a pet owner has come to the vet for a different reason, our receptionists are encouraging clients to fill in the assessment while they’re in the waiting room so they can chat through anything that comes up with their vet right then and there. 

“The Knowledge Hub is also great. We used to provide clients with handouts, but the app is so much handier. Having a place to direct clients to where we can be confident that the information is correct and sensible is brilliant.”  

Fiona Whelan, behaviour and training counsellor at Company of Animals – one of the experts behind PLASID’s stress-related content – added: “Often, pet owners consider stress management around events like bonfire night and New Year’s Eve, but with millions of households acquiring pets during the pandemic lockdowns, we’re now seeing almost daily cases of younger animals, in particular dogs, experiencing separation anxiety and stress when being left alone, or put into new situations because they haven’t been exposed to ‘normal’ experiences like other pets. 

“Of course, there is no quick fix but this is one area where the PLASID  app can be helpful. After speaking to their vet, pet owners can access a host of information about how to properly support their pets through training programmes and recommendations, all at the touch of a smartphone.”

PLASID can be downloaded from the App Store or Google Play Store.

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