pet genetics

The Power of Proaction

Learn how proactive care, through information gained from a pet's DNA can allow veterinarians to help their patients live longer, healthier & happier lives


If someone you trusted whispered they knew with certainty the winning Powerball numbers, would you buy a ticket? I bet you would. And if not, could you share them with me?

What if that same person said your lab tests indicated a risk of developing heart disease during the next decade? Would you schedule additional tests, modify your diet, exercise, and change your lifestyle? I hope so. That info could be more valuable than the lottery, and those actions could extend your life.

☝️ Reactive and Proactive Medicine

We often think of “reactive” and “proactive” interventions in medicine. In simplest terms, “reactive” is traditional “sick care,” and “proactive” is “preventive medicine.” “Reactive” occurs after symptoms or disease develops, and the goal is to mitigate or cure. “Proactive” seeks to avoid symptoms and illnesses altogether. While this may appear as a “pragmatic versus aspirational” semantical debate, proactive care is more attainable than ever. But only if we take action.

Proactive care begins with information. A pet’s DNA offers veterinarians actionable health insights previously unimaginable. And proactive pet care can lead to longer, healthier, and happier lives for the pets we love and serve.

🗺️  DNA: Health Blueprint 

With a swab of saliva, a veterinarian now has access to a dog or cat’s health blueprint. We can offer individualized care recommendations based on their unique genetic information. For example, suppose a cat or dog has a genetic mutation indicating an increased risk of a heart condition. In that case, we can create a lifetime prescription of care that includes regular exams, imaging, and specific biomarkers such as NT-proBNP based on actual risk, not vague general guidelines. For a dog carrying a genetic mutation associated with epilepsy, we can educate the pet parent on signs to look for and what to do if a seizure occurs. And, of course, we can help eradicate inherited diseases by offering breeding advice based on genetic data. 

These recommendations are more compelling because they’re based on an individual pet’s risk factors. Individualized recommendations are more likely to be accepted and adhered to by pet parents. Everyone wins the proverbial Powerball of health.  

The power of proaction in veterinary medicine is immense. By identifying health risks early, we have the opportunity to achieve better outcomes. My goal of the “25-year old pet” grows closer with each DNA test. 

❓ Two Questions to Ask

Ask yourself these questions the next time you see a healthy and happy young dog or cat. 

1) What advice can I give this pet parent today to maintain this level of health and vitality for the next ten to twenty years?  

2) What diseases is this pet most at risk for over the next ten to twenty years? 

Genetic information helps you answer both.

Before we could evaluate a pet’s genetic risk, we could only give general advice based on breed, size, or lifestyle. Today, we can peek into a pet’s biological draft of life and offer individualized recommendations to influence health and quality of life. That’s powerful.

Pet parents don’t want to know what is best for a species or breed; they want to know what’s best for their dog or cat. DNA provides that understanding. 

Wishing you more “proactive” than “reactive” veterinary care,

Dr. Ernie Ward

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