Knowing the risk, one can implement measures early to offset that risk. - Tim Phillips

This headline is an easy way to get the attention of most business people. But it's also relevant because it relates to a paradigm shift that will change what and how much petfood you sell. This shift is called predictive medicine .

Predictive medicine

Predictive medicine uses various tests to predict disease risk and then uses strategies to offset that risk. "The predictive test need not be a genetic test," says Gail Smith, VMD, PhD, professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Pennsylvania (USA). "It can be one or more of several tests - radiographs, ultrasounds, blood tests and others - that have been shown to correlate with the susceptibility to a specific disease."

The logic is the same regardless of the type of testing: Knowing the risk, one can implement measures early to offset that risk. In this context, canine hip dysplasia (CHD) and a hip screening test known as PennHIP ( ) are a good example.

Exhibit A: hip dysplasia

CHD is an extremely common genetic disease that affects millions of dogs and leads to osteoarthritis (OA) of the hip, causing pain and decreased mobility. The pharmaceutical industry manufactures several nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat the pain of OA and many of the leading petfood companies offer premium and prescription diets with additives aimed at relieving joint discomfort and slowing the rate of cartilage degradation in osteoarthritic joints.

The traditional paradigm for treating hip OA is to start medication or a new petfood shortly after the onset of the pain and disability of OA. But why wait? If there is a test that can predict a pet has a high risk of developing a certain disease, why not start preventive treatment immediately?

The PennHIP test

The PennHIP radiographic test was developed at the University of Pennsylvania in 1983. A large body of research has been published to validate the test's ability to determine the risk for osteoarthritis at an age as young as 16 weeks. It is the only test capable of estimating the risk for hip OA, says Smith. Radiographic OA risk increases as the PennHIP score increases.

With the knowledge that a dog has a risk for a disease such as OA, one is justified to implement early strategies to offset the risk. The net effect to the petfood industry is to lengthen considerably the treatment interval - that is, the length of time treatment is used. The advantages to the dog and the dog owner are obvious: later onset of OA and reduced severity of the disease and a better quality of life.