Major Research Projects

The VetCompass Australia Consortium is currently focusing its research efforts on the following projects (further details below). 

  • The burden of infectious diseases in Australian companion animals: examining geographical distribution of disorders and cost-effectiveness of interventions to inform research policy and curriculum

  • Antimicrobial use and effectiveness of antimicrobial stewardship in companion animal veterinary clinics in Australia

  • The natural history and impact of canine obesity

Please note that there is currently a special call for Strategic Projects that relate to these topics. If you have a related research topic that you would like to investigate using VetCompass Australia data, this is your opportunity.

If you would like to contact the Board about these Major Projects or other potential projects that fall within this category, please contact us.

The burden of infectious diseases in Australian companion animals: examining geographical distribution of disorders and cost-effectiveness of interventions to inform research policy and curriculum

The few studies reviewing evidence from the UK, US and Australia have shown that burdens of infectious diseases in dogs and cats are not homogeneous across each country or even within well-known endemic areas. Evidence of spatio-temporal disease clustering indicates that are risk factors contributing to more (or less) disease occurrence and/or severity in specific areas and time periods. Understanding factors associated with this space-time variation will be important in developing control measures to reduce disease burden.

Important risk factors include population distribution, demographic drivers (age, sex and breed), socioeconomic drivers (social determinants of health) and environmental drivers (physical environment and climate). However, very little is known about the geographical distribution and the relative contribution of each of these groups of risk factors to the infections that cause most of the disease burden in companion animals.

This Project aims to develop a novel analytic pipeline to better understand and forecast companion animal infectious diseases in Australia. Using spatial modelling techniques the Project will quantify spatial variation in burden, estimate the relative efficacy of treatment options and demonstrate geographical disparities in the cost-effectiveness of interventions for these disorders. Currently very little is known about the epidemiology of common infectious diseases in companion animals and analysis of the ARC sponsored VetCompass database and other datasets will provide evidence for decision-making in future research investment in companion animal infectious diseases, as well as inform the veterinary curricula and permit evidence-based practice.

The Project will benefit government and not-for-profit organisations by providing information that supports focussed veterinary clinical research and advice on veterinary curriculum reform to improve animal infectious disease epidemiology and control. Quantification of risk factors and cost-effective interventions will provide veterinarians with the evidence to formulate cost-effective treatment protocols that aim to reduce the severity of infectious diseases of dogs and cats in Australia.

Antimicrobial use and effectiveness of antimicrobial stewardship in companion animal veterinary clinics in Australia

Antimicrobial stewardship is a set of interventions to improve the appropriateness of antimicrobial use. These interventions are commonplace in the medical setting but are yet to be implemented on a large scale in veterinary medicine. To institute an antimicrobial stewardship program (ASP), continuous collection of antimicrobial use data is necessary to establish a baseline and to assess the impact of interventions. In medical practice this is often obtained by point prevalence surveys of antimicrobial use and appropriateness of use, but this is a labour intensive and expensive process and not well suited to veterinary practices.

Infection prevention is another arm of antimicrobial stewardship that can result in reduced antimicrobial use. Routine preventative health measures, such as vaccination, are likely to be highly effective in reducing the burden of disease in an animal population. A widespread analysis of the effectiveness of routine preventative health measures and vaccination in the companion animal population in Australia has not been performed.

The natural history and impact of canine obesity

Obesity in companion animals is extremely common in developed countries. For dogs, the population prevalence of overweight and obesity has been estimated at 19.7–59.3% (McGreevy et al., 2005; Lund et al., 2006; Hill, 2009; Courcier et al., 2010; Corbee, 2013; Mao et al., 2013).  In a recent study of dogs living in Beijing, China, 44.4% were found to be obese. (Preventive Veterinary Medicine Volume 112, Issues 3–4, 1 November 2013).  Earlier this year, in a study of dogs living in the Canary Islands (where obesity is particularly prevalent in people) 40.9% of studied dogs were founds to be obese (Front Vet Sci. 2017 Apr 25;4:59. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2017.00059). The prevalence is not only high, it is apparently on the increase, at least in some geographic areas.  From 2007 to 2011, overweight and obesity in U.S. dogs reportedly increased by 37% (Banfield 2012).  Despite its high prevalence, the epidemiology of canine obesity is poorly understood. Breed predispositions to obesity are known to vary greatly between regions, but interactions of breed, type, sex, neutering status and age have not been further explored.  In addition, obesity increases the likelihood of comorbid disorders, including diabetes, dermatological conditions, some cancers, orthopaedic concerns, pancreatitis and cardiorespiratory diseases in dogs, as in people.  Comorbid effects in dogs depend on breed and other factors. This project will evaluate the factors that predispose specific breeds to obesity within Australia and also determine to which disease conditions obese dogs of particular breeds are predisposed. In addition, studies of socio-economic status (using postcode data) will be used to determine the risk of obesity of dogs as related to median household income in those areas.

The proposed study will provide veterinarians and pet-food manufacturers with the evidence to target preventative measures and formulate diets that meet the specific needs of the high-risk phenotypes. More broadly, it will detail the complexities of mammalian responses to nutritional overload and the impact of owners’ demographics on the likelihood of obesity developing in their dogs.

(Please contact us if you need full reference details.)


Student Research Projects

Find out more about Student Research Projects.

Strategic Research Projects

Find out more about Strategic Research Projects.