New pet-care apps arm owners, veterinarians with mobile diagnostic tools

Taro Franke

Dog-lover Taro Franke, a tech entrepreneur and artificial intelligence researcher in Germany, was chatting with a veterinarian friend of his one day about a self-learning diagnostic system he had developed for use in human health. It dawned on them that the technology might be even more useful for pet owners trying to determine whether symptoms they spot in their dogs are serious enough to warrant a visit to their local veterinary clinic. So last September, Franke and a team of vets launched DoggyDoc, a mobile app that allows users to input details about symptoms they're seeing in their four-legged friends and read tips from veterinarians about what might be ailing them.

"Most people don't have health insurance for their dogs, so every time they have to go to the vet they have to pay," says Franke, co-founder of Berlin-based Petsicon, which developed the app, in an interview with FierceAnimalHealth. The more vets he spoke to, the more Franke heard that most pet owners wait a week or longer after spotting symptoms before visiting the vet, often causing the symptoms to worsen and making illnesses harder to cure. "We wanted to develop a central system for expert information, where people could go and inform themselves," Franke says.

DoggyDoc is among a growing crop of apps designed to help people monitor their pets' health, communicate with their veterinarians, and perhaps even learn a bit of the veterinary trade themselves, so they can optimize the time--and money--they spend at the vet. Itchology, for example, is a new app for owners of "itchy" dogs, who constantly scratch to relieve the skin disease allergic dermatitis.

Allergic dermatitis affects an estimated 8 million dogs in the U.S. alone. The app allows owners to track and record how changes in weather and pollen affect symptoms, and then share the data with their vets. "Itchology is not intended to replace veterinary care," said veterinary dermatologist Jon Plant, president of Pet Health Apps, which developed Itchology, in a press release announcing its launch for the iPhone. "It is designed to give pet owners a way to really help veterinarians manage itchy dogs."

There are even apps for pet owners who want veterinarians to come to them. In September, a company called VetPronto started up in San Francisco, allowing dog and cat owners to order house calls for their pets on-demand. VetPronto, which hopes to expand the service to Seattle and Los Angeles soon, charges $129 per house call--$100 of which goes to the vet, according to Tech Crunch. The company recently spun out of the Y Combinator tech incubator.

Brian Hur

"Once I got into the veterinary industry, I noticed there were a lot of gaps in technology … I've really focused on bridging those gaps," said co-founder Brian Hur, a veterinarian and former Microsoft engineer, in an interview with Tech Crunch. The company has booked more than 300 appointments so far, he reports.

It isn't just startups that are jumping into the animal-health app world. In December, Bayer HealthCare Animal Health launched Cowdition, a Body Condition Scoring (BCS) app that allows farmers to monitor the health of their dairy herds. And last fall, UnitedHealth Group ($UNH) introduced SnapVet, an app that allows pet owners to have remote consultations with their veterinarians. 

So should veterinarians be worried about competition from these new apps? Not at all, asserts Petsicon's Franke, who says he plans to expand DoggyDoc's capabilities so users can share information with breeders, dog sitters, and other caregivers. "Young veterinarians are very positive about the app, but some older vets feel we're trying to compete," Franke says. "We want to help vets by giving [dog owners] more information than they can normally find on Google. It's like having a vet as a friend."

- access the Itchology press release here
- here's the Tech Crunch story