Who are our patients and how does their background affect their treatment?
Have you ever wondered if the population of animals you see is typical of others practices? Do you ever wonder if you see more of a particular disease in your practice because your owners keep different species and breeds to others? Or maybe your clients vaccinate more, or perhaps neuter less?
The diseases you end up treating is heavily influenced by the demographics of your clients and their pets, and it therefore follows that in order to treat our pet population most efficiently, we must understand how these demographics vary from practice to practice. For companion animals, these data have been difficult to collect because of the distributed nature of our industry. In SAVSNET (the Small Animal veterinary Surveillance Network), we have been collecting large volumes of electronic health records from a sentinel population of veterinary practices across the UK. Here we use information recorded in these records to describe key pet demographic features of 143 practices (329 sites) in Great Britain.
Dogs made up almost two thirds of this veterinary-visiting population, with cats, rabbits and other species making up 30.3%, 2.0% and 1.6% respectively. The Labrador was the most common breed of dog but there is some evidence this varies in different regions of the country. Compared to cats, dogs and rabbits were more likely to be purebred and younger. Neutering was more common in cats compared to dogs and rabbits. Neutering was most common at 6-months of age in dogs, but in cats early neutering was also quite common. The insurance and microchipping relative frequency was highest in dogs. Owners living in the least-deprived areas of Great Britain were more likely to own purebred, neutered, insured and microchipped dogs.
The same association was found for cats in England and for certain parameters in Wales and Scotland. It is clear that not all practices see the same type of animals; since the type of animal owned is essentially driven by the owner, it is likely that social factors heavily influence many key demographic factors, and effect treatment and preventative care choices. Understanding these owner choices will help us deliver a more tailored service to our own population of clients and their pets.
Alan Radford BSc, BVSc, PhD, MRCVS, Reader, Dept of Infection Biology, Institute of Infection and Global Health, University of Liverpool
Alan has two main interests in his research career. The first stems from his PhD and is on the genetic diversity and evolution of pathogens, especially viruses. Recent projects include canine parvovirus, canine coronavirus and feline calicivirus. He is currently working on a project to reappraise the role of old and potentially new pathogens in respiratory disease in dogs and cats. In working with these pathogens, Alan became aware of a distinct gap in knowledge concerning how common these pathogens are in veterinary practice, and whether some outbreaks of disease were being missed. This led Alan and colleagues to develop SAVSNET (the Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network – SAVSNET.co.uk).
SAVSNET collects large volumes of anonymised data from participating veterinary practices and diagnostic laboratories, and uses it to identify significant trends in the diseases seen by veterinary surgeons in practice.