VetCompass harnesses data to research and treat ailments in cats and dogs

Dogs know what you're saying

Be careful what you say in front of your pet pooch as they might understand what you're talking about, according to a Hungarian study.

Miniature poodles live twice as long as chihuahuas. Almost half the cats that die under the age of five are killed in accidents. And for each kilogram your adult cat puts on, subtract six months from its lifespan.

They are some of the insights gained into the UK's pet population by VetCompass, a system set to deliver the benefits of big data to the cats and dogs of Australia, as well as their owners.

Professor Paul McGreevy, from Sydney University's Faculty of Veterinary Science, was part of the team that started VetCompass in the Britain in 2007. The data collected by the not-for-profit project, now launching in Australia, will help pets live happier, healthier lives, he said.

Right now, staring at your cavoodle is my only option.
Right now, staring at your cavoodle is my only option. 

"Owners will be able to get a better sense of what works and when interventions of a certain scale are needed, when to move on a disorder and get the right sort of treatment," he said. "What's exciting for vets is that it's evidence-based medicine on a grand scale for species that are very important to us, but for which research is often badly underfunded."

VetCompass Britain, with access to data from 11 million episodes of care at 450 clinics, has revealed that some of the most common ailments and causes of premature death in pets are easily preventable.

Trauma, kidney disease and cancer are the most common causes of death in cats in Britain. For dogs under three years behavioural problems necessitating euthanasia, gastro-intestinal issues and car accidents cause the most deaths, while older dogs in Britain most commonly die from cancer, arthritis and neurological problems.

Purebred dogs in Britain live for an average of 11.9 years, compared with 13.1 years for crossbred dogs. The average lifespan for purebred cats is 12.5 years and 14 years for their crossbred counterparts.

All seven veterinary schools in Australia are part of the project and it is hoped vet practices around the country will opt in to the system, at no cost.


VetCompass uses data already being noted by vets in standard practice records, pooling it and making it accessible to researchers. Once 100 Australian practices sign up "data from the system will be representative and provide researchers with access to a wealth of information", Professor McGreevy said.

"Without these data, we really don't know precisely what disorder is affecting what animals and at what age," he said. "The more we know about the diseases they get and when they get them, the more ... we can customise wellness plans for particular breeds or particular crosses."

The system uses a software app to collect anonymised clinical records. The data will inform research on the causes and distribution of animal health problems, reveal the best treatments and allow vet schools to focus on the most common disorders when teaching, Professor McGreevy said. 

Kim Kendall, with feline friends at The Chatswood Cat Palace, has signed her veterinary practice up to the VetCompass ...
Kim Kendall, with feline friends at The Chatswood Cat Palace, has signed her veterinary practice up to the VetCompass database.  Photo: Peter Rae

Kim Kendall, owner of The Chatswood Cat Palace in Sydney, was the first vet to sign up her practice to VetCompass. She said it would be "tremendously valuable", providing reliable evidence about the effectiveness of certain treatments and reducing the number of veterinary interventions for animals.

"By reducing interventions it reduces costs for the client, so they'll be able to afford to do the treatment that works the best," Dr Kendall said.