The maned cat cocked his head and looked at the plastic box sitting against his cage. Nearby, a researcher adjusted the settings on his laptop in order to read the lion’s vital signs without any wires or anesthetics.
Local startup TruVitals developed a wireless vital signs monitor. Commercialized as the TruVitalPet, the monitor tracks any animal’s vital signs without making physical contact.
“Some dogs have thick fur, so there’s a lot of adjusting [with traditional contact sensors],” said creator Jenshan Lin, a University of Florida professor of electrical and computer engineering. “If it slides, it creates a lot of error during measurement.”
Current monitors touch the animal’s skin or fur can cause inaccurate readings because they often slip. The wires also make it uncomfortable, so the animal may not behave naturally, further increasing the chances for error.
When an animal is recovering from surgery and physical contact is impossible, an assistant must monitor the animal’s vital signs. The new monitor will eliminate the assistant’s role, allowing animals to behave naturally and lead to more accurate vital sign readings. The constant readings will be recorded into a cloud database.
After a decade of research and development at UF, TruVitals licensed Lin’s technology. It will market the vital signs detector and develop a smartphone application so vets can monitor their patient’s health on the go using the cloud database.
Karl Zawoy, the chief technology officer at TruVitals, said the device is most needed in the zoo industry. However, further research and development is necessary to monitor large animals.
At an animal sanctuary in Newberry on March 20, Zawoy tested the device on a lion, Magnificent Sabu, who had never had his vital signs read before. Because lions are dangerous animals, vets cannot read their signs without an anesthesia. Under the anesthesia, the respirations will not be the same as its normal vital signs.
Dawn Miller, a DVM in Newberry said it’s been nearly impossible for vets to monitor animals like tortoises because they respond so slowly to anesthetics.
“You have to wait a day to see if the tortoise is OK,” she said.
Lin’s micro radar technology uses less power than a cell phone, so it won’t harm a pet. It works like a Doppler radar gun, but instead of detecting a speeding car, the sensitive motion detector picks up high-frequency movement such as an animal’s heart beat and breathing rate.
While TruVitals has already performed proof of concept tests on horses, monkeys and other animals, the clinical studies will begin in either August or September.
The monitor is a plastic cube the size of a juice box that can hang on a cage. The prototype contains a battery life of about six hours, but later versions will last about two days. With this technology an animal can heal from surgeries with minimal human intrusion whether at the vet or at home.
While standard monitors can only read the animal’s vitals at one point in time, this device will allow animals to be continuously monitored without leads attached during the critical hours after surgery with much less stress on the animal.
“It’s really pretty neat,” said Laura Cohen, a veterinarian and the owner of High Springs Animal Hospital where the monitor has been tested. “It’s not very big, and you can hang it on the cage about a foot or two away from the animal.”
She said the device was accurate and she is looking forward to the smartphone and tablet application, which will be available in December. The real-time smartphone application will allow vets to monitor the heart rate and respirations of a pet from a distance and also allow vets to create databases on each animal.
“You can accumulate a lot of the vital information about the pets on the cloud network and make a database that could be very useful for veterinarians and doctors,” Lin said.