Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation

A Verona-based startup called Cold Water Technologies wants to provide a better, more accessible option for treating itching and inflammation in pets.

Jordan Sand
Jordan Sand

Under the leadership of CEO and former UW-Madison researcher Jordan Sand, the business has developed its Happy Scratch nutraceutical using recycled pork product. In 2023, the company signed a license agreement with WARF covering the science behind the material.

“I’m really excited to see this team of UW alumni putting this useful technology on the market to help people help their pets,” says Stephanie Whitehorse, WARF director of IP, physical sciences.

According to Sand, existing competitor prescription drugs are “very expensive,” costing consumers between $2 and $4 per day. That’s in addition to the cost of seeing a veterinarian, which runs about $75 per visit on average, he says.

“Our price point is going to be more like $1 a day … So we really think we have an advantage there,” he says. “All-natural, over the counter and less expensive. We’re hoping that will drive people to try our product.”

The technology behind Happy Scratch was developed at the university through efforts to find new ways to upcycle leftovers from meat processing. Sand says that while up to 70 percent of any given animal slaughtered is consumed by people, that leaves about 30 percent that holds relatively little value for these businesses.

“They don’t make a lot of money out of it. But really, that’s the part of the animal that keeps it alive, so we always thought there would be a lot of good, metabolically active components that existed within that milieu,” he says.

Ultimately, the research effort identified a material found within pig intestines that helped animals with dermatitis, or inflammation of the skin. After testing in mouse models, the scientists discovered it substantially reduced the itchiness associated with that condition in dogs as well.

“This is a great example of how a research project evolves and leads to a different end product than expected,” says Emily Bauer, WARF director of licensing. “When Jordan’s lab initiated this project, they were focused on livestock. What was originally a side effect became the first commercial application because of Jordan’s vision and determination.”

Maria Dashek
Maria Dashek

Co-founder Maria Dashek, who went to veterinary and graduate school at UW-Madison, has firsthand experience of the product’s effectiveness. She gives Happy Scratch to her own dog Kiba, a long-haired chihuahua mix, to relieve his itching.

While finishing up her Ph.D. program, Dashek moonlighted in pet vaccine clinics where she was frequently asked about options for treating itchy pets.

“People care about their pets and want to provide them with good care. However, not everyone has funds available to be able to take their pet to a full-service veterinarian and get treatment,” she says. “I am hoping that Happy Scratch can provide support for those animals that these people love dearly, as they’re a part of their family.”

To make the Happy Scratch product, Cold Water Technologies takes the lining of the small intestine leftover from pork processing, pasteurizes it to eliminate any harmful pathogens, and spray dries it into a powdered form. It’s then packaged into one-gram packets, which are given to a pet with dermatitis once per day with food, Sand says.

“One of the bigger selling points for most pet owners is how palatable it is,” he says. “The pets really, really like to eat it. In fact, most of the people who work on spray drying the material said their pets would just lick their pants when they got home … They went completely nuts for it.”

Aside from tasting great, Sand explains the product is so effective because it helps to compensate for a common immune condition called selective IgA deficiency. Due to low levels of a protein called immunoglobulin A, animals with this condition are much more susceptible to dermatitis, recurrent infections and other health issues, he says.

“The mucosal layer of pig intestines has a lot of IgA in it. So basically, we’re replacing a missing part of the immune system,” he says. “We’re feeding it back to pets through the diet.”

Dashek touts the relationship between the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation and researchers on campus that resulted in the intellectual property behind Happy Scratch getting patented.

“Being able to hold that IP has been really important, and allows us to have a product that we feel confident will be successful in the marketplace … As we were starting the company, WARF was very willing to work with us in licensing the patent, so that’s been really helpful,” she says.

Going forward, the business is analyzing various sales channels for Happy Scratch including direct-to-consumer and selling through vet clinics. Dashek says the goal is to keep the company based in Wisconsin, adding she hopes “we’ll be able to continue to expand as our demand grows.”