Research carried out using the Royal Veterinary College’s (RVC) VetCompassTM programme, shows dental disease, osteoarthritis and obesity have the greatest impact on dog’s welfare. The study investigated the severity and duration of eight major conditions seen in practice in addition to recording their frequency to provide an overall measure of welfare impact.

The eight common conditions examined in this study were anal sac disorder, conjunctivitis, dental disease, dermatitis, overweight/obese, lipoma, osteoarthritis and otitis externa. The most common of these were dental disorder, being overweight/obese and anal sac disorder and the ones that affected the dogs’ lives for the longest were dental disease, osteoarthritis and obesity. Conditions classified as most severe were osteoarthritis, otitis externa and dermatitis.

The new study was conducted by analysing data from 455,557 dogs who presented at veterinary practices participating in VetCompass. It represents a collaboration between researchers at the RVC, Cambridge and Leeds Universities. The key findings included:

  • The most common conditions were dental disorder (9.6%), overweight/obese (5.7%) and anal sac disorder (4.5%)
  • The conditions that lasted the longest were dental disorders (76% of year), osteoarthritis (82%), and overweight/obese (70%)
  • The most severe conditions were Osteoarthritis (scoring 13 of 21, higher scores indicated greater severity), otitis externa (11/21) and dermatitis demonstrated (10/21) highest overall severity scores. The conditions with the highest overall scores were dental disease, osteoarthritis and obesity

By taking frequency, duration and severity together, this study shows the conditions with the highest welfare impact overall are dental disease, osteoarthritis and obesity. It is hoped these results can aid vets to target conditions that have the greatest impact on dogs they treat. The evidence also clearly shows owners the value of addressing these important conditions to improve their animal’s welfare.  This ground-breaking study also provides evidence-based information for other stakeholders on conditions that merit further research prioritisation.

Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior lecturer in epidemiology at the RVC and co-author said, “During my 20 years as a first opinion vet, owners constantly asked me to advise them about the most important conditions that they should try to prevent in their dogs. At that time, I could not answer this as it was unknown to science.

“We now have this answer; and we can now advise owners to focus on dental health, monitoring for joint disease and to pay special attention to their dog’s body condition score. Finally, we have the key to prioritising long-term health in dogs overall. This is a huge step forward to improving dog welfare; huge thanks to Dogs Trust for having the vision to support this work.”

The study, “Health-related welfare prioritisation of canine disorders using electronic health records in primary care practice in the UK”, is freely available open access in the journal BMC Veterinary Research:


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