The truth about cats, dogs (and horses!)

Australia’s first national pet surveillance scheme VetCompass has been launched.

Initially set up in the United Kingdom by Sydney Veterinary School Professor Paul McGreevy, VetCompass has now launched in Australia—in a collaboration between all veterinary schools—to bring the benefits of big data and epidemiology expertise to pets, with potential impacts on human health and the environment.

The truth about cats, dogs (and horses!)
Cat at the University Veterinary Teaching Hospital (Photo credit: University of Sydney)

Some of the most common ailments and causes of premature death in companion animals are easily preventable—that’s a key finding of VetCompass in the United Kingdom, which is now spawning its Australian counterpart.

The not-for-profit project is a collaboration including the Royal Veterinary College in the UK, the University of Sydney and now all veterinary schools in Australia, investigating companion animal health problems and identifying risk factors for common disorders in our favourite pets.

VetCompass is an innovative global collaborative project bringing big-data surveillance to provide a better understanding of disease risk factors for common disorders and enable the assessment of welfare impacts to prioritise disease-prevention strategies. VetCompass was launched overseas by University of Sydney Professor Paul McGreevy and colleagues from the Royal Veterinary College, London, in 2007.

Now Australians have a chance to compare their pets to their UK counterparts: “The Australian data may reveal different patterns of diseases and different breed predispositions because, to some extent, we have a separate gene pool to dogs and cats in the UK,” said Professor McGreevy.

Initially looking only at the most popular pets—cats and dogs—as well as horses for which little data exist, it is envisaged VetCompass will eventually expand to all companion animals in Australia.

The success of VetCompass in the UK has involved more than 450 clinics, with researchers being able to study more than 11 million episodes of care, representing four million unique animals.

Research projects in the UK have targeted numerous disorders that affect pets, including kidney disease, epilepsy, pyoderma (skin infection) and cancer.

VetCompass recently launched in Australia in partnership with all seven veterinary schools at the University of Sydney, University of Adelaide, University of Melbourne, University of Queensland, Murdoch University, Charles Sturt University and James Cook University. The consortium of veterinary schools secured Australian Research Council funding to establish VetCompass and will oversee the development and management of the resource for the improvement of companion animal health, with potential impacts on human health and the environment.

“Funding for dog and cat research is notoriously scarce and that’s why the case for a sustainable system that monitors the welfare, health and treatment of the nation’s pets is truly compelling,” Professor McGreevy said.

“Vets are collecting this information level anyway and once VetCompass has its first one hundred Australian practice signatories, data from the system will be representative and provide researchers with access to a wealth of information.”

Professor McGreevy said VetCompass would enable non-invasive big-data analysis and epidemiology expertise to highlight what is happening in the companion animal population, when and where.

“It’s great news for pets, but we’re also excited about learning more about how our relationship with companion animals can affect and inform human health.”

Veterinary Medicine at the University of Sydney

The Sydney Veterinary School’s DVM program aims to produce career ready graduates with excellent fundamental knowledge and skills in managing animal health and disease; and in protecting and advancing animal, human and environmental health and welfare locally and globally.

The program encourages enrolment of students from diverse backgrounds and aims to help them achieve their goals to become veterinary medical professionals in the global community. Teaching is research-driven to ensure students learn from the latest developments and advances in evidence-based practice, veterinary science research, animal behaviour and welfare science and veterinary public health.

Program: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM)
Location: Sydney, New South Wales
Semester intake: March
Program duration: 4 years

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