Pet database launched
James Cook University is helping fund a new database designed to keep track of all that ails our furry friends.
Richard Squires, Associate Professor of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at JCU, said VetCompass brings big-data analysis to the care of companion animals.
“Anonymous clinical information from vets, who opt into the system, will be collated into a centralised repository. Researchers will analyse this data to investigate the frequency and distribution of health problems in animals and identify risk factors for those problems,” he said.
The scheme began in the United Kingdom where more than 450 clinics participate and researchers are able to study more than 11 million episodes of care, representing four million unique animals.
Already, research projects have targeted numerous disorders that affect pets, including kidney disease, epilepsy, pyoderma (skin infection) and cancer.
Associate Professor Squires said the project provided vast amounts of medical information for researchers.
“I have papers on my desk in which the UK VetCompass scheme has yielded data from studying more than 170,000 patient records enabling detection and description of many thousands of cases. Ordinarily, 300 cases would be considered quite a big sample size.”
He said when information is coming in steadily from all around the country it will assist in spotting emerging antibiotic resistance or outbreaks of disease in pets.
“I would think that with this in place, we would be able to identify an outbreak within a few days and be in a position to take more effective steps to control it.”
The UK’s VetCompass was launched by University of Sydney Professor Paul McGreevy and colleagues from the Royal Veterinary College, London, in 2007.
“Vets are collecting this information level anyway and once VetCompass has its first 100 Australian practice signatories, data from the system will be representative and provide researchers with access to a wealth of information,” Prof. McGreevy said.
“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.”
Findings of VetCompass in the UK include:
- Trauma / road traffic accidents were the top- and 3rd-leading cause of death for young cats and dogs respectively.
- Puppies under 3 years were most commonly killed / abandoned because of behavioural issues.
- Cancer was the top and 2nd-leading cause of death in dogs over 3 years and cats over 5.
- Other general conditions in cats ranked: 2. flea infestation (8%) and 3. obesity (6.7%), followed by heart murmur (5%) and injury (4.6%).
About VetCompass in Australia
Pet owners are encouraged to ask their vet to opt into the system, which will enable pet-specific information from their practice to be included in a national resource.
The VetCompass system extracts clinical records from veterinary practices, collating them in a centralised repository. Researchers can then analyse this data to investigate the frequency and distribution of health problems seen by veterinary surgeons working in general practice and to identify risk factors for those problems.
The information is drawn from the standard practice clinical records, with no additional input needed from the vets. Each animal is given a unique code to allow researchers to follow an animal or treatment over time, but neither animal nor owner can otherwise be identified. The postcode is the only identifier included in the data transferred. This allows for the geographical surveillance of diseases and conditions.
The sex, age, breed, presenting complaint, diagnosis and treatment will also be included in the data shared.
VetCompass provides a simple, non-invasive way for researchers to access what they need. In turn, this has significant benefits for veterinarians, their clients and, most importantly, the animals themselves.
Associate Professor Richard Squires