Over half of all European households have made a dog part of their families. But with dog ownership comes responsibility, and that often includes a trip to the veterinarian. According to Blaž Cugmas, a researcher at the University of Latvia and coordinator of the EU-funded DogSPEC project, 5 of the 10 most common reasons for visiting a vet present erythema, a redness of the skin. “The monitoring of skin erythema over time is an essential diagnostic tool,” he says. “Unfortunately, because dogs are covered in fur, seeing this redness is difficult and there is currently no method to objectively estimate the intensity of the erythema.” With the support of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the DogSPEC project aims to change this by developing a portable, cost-effective multispectral imaging device for monitoring a dog’s skin for erythema.
Innovative new tools
Although regularly used in human medicine, biophotonic techniques like cameras, pulse oximeters, and infra-red thermometers are rarely used in the veterinary sciences. “Due to their extensive pigmentation and hairiness, a pulse oximeter, which monitors heart rate and blood oxygen saturation, has to be placed on the animal’s tongue,” explains Cugmas. “Because this can only be done when the animal is unconscious, we investigated ways to measure sites like the leg and the tail that can be measured on a conscious dog.” To take these measurements, the project’s interdisciplinary team developed several innovative new tools to replace the use of visual erythema assessment. One of these tools is a multispectral near-infrared device that, via a smartphone, can detect extra absorption peaks of haemoglobin. The project also worked on a device for the multimodal acquisition of visible multispectral and fluorescence images and near-infrared multispectral data. This device, which also works via a smartphone, provides an estimation of erythema intensity by calculating an erythema index.
Finding new ways to apply human medical techniques to vet science
The DogSPEC project succeeded at identifying new measurement sites for using a pulse oximeter on conscious dogs. “We created an affordable, accessible optical system that uses a smartphone and dermatoscope to make objective estimations of erythema severity,” adds Cugmas. “Together, these achievements will result in better veterinary care and, most importantly, dogs that can benefit from established techniques in a less stressful manner.” The project team was recently awarded two local research grants to continue their work. “I am confident that in 2 or 3 years, we will produce even more useful results in the use of biophotonics in veterinary medicine, thus contributing to better veterinary medicine and animal health,” concludes Cugmas.
DogSPEC, dog, erythema, veterinarian, multispectral imaging, biophotonic techniques, pulse oximeter, veterinary sciences