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An Urban Experience
uncertainty that inevitably accompanies this information and the range of stakeholders who must put findings into action. As we move into the era of Big Data for companion animal health, it is critical that everyone with a serious interest in companion animal health become comfortable and confident in both the science and the art of Numbers.
The first requirement is to identify useful sources of these Numbers. Access to sources of data on large counts of cats and dogs that are reasonably typical of the general or a specific population and that provide reliable demographic and health data are critical.
There are no perfect resources for such data and each resource has its opportunities and challenges (3). The optimal approach may be to combine the strengths from a number of resources to answer any one research question while mitigating the drawbacks from each resource. Examples of data resources that have proven useful to date include:
• Insurance sources (4)
• Primary-care veterinary practice data (5)
• Referral veterinary practice data (6)
• Breed and kennel club health surveys (7)
• Cancer registries (8)
However, the presence of data is just the first step
on a long road from data to positive health impact
for companion animals. The next step is to develop sustainable systems that enable these data to be curated and processed such that they are elevated from raw primary data into high-enough quality data for research. Many of the examples cited in the previous paragraphs have developed methods for such data processing and presentation but it is often at this step that other defunct data collection concepts have failed to deliver usable outputs. Other critical steps on this knowledge journey include a requirement for researchers with an ability and motivation to analyse these data, funding to support
this work and leaders with the vision to co-ordinate and direct this research. And, as with all study, it is crucial the right questions are asked if there is any hope that findings will be applied to and have an impact on real world problems.
When it comes to the point where we try to use such data to ensure healthy dogs and cats, the power of effective collaboration becomes hugely influential. Researchers may be the main players in information generation but it is breeders, owners, the media and the general public who control the decisions on which animals to breed, which breeds get bought and how these animals are cared for. In addition to determining the type of information needed, dissemination now becomes critical; the skills and effort required to achieve these goals necessitate the participation of not only researchers but a wide range of other contributors. It
must be an ongoing team effort; collectively we must develop the tools that can support these efforts.
Generation of valid data on diseases that affect breeding and effective use of such data to ensure healthy dogs and cats requires an overall strategic approach that focuses effort towards important and achievable goals. A piecemeal approach where multiple stakeholders carry out independent and disparate bodies of work is likely
to be highly inefficient, no matter how hard-working and well-meaning these stakeholders may be. Events like this meeting that precedes WSAVA 17 and the recent IPFD 3rd International Dog Health Workshop, where representatives of various stakeholder groups come together, can promote a collaborative force that can address mutual objectives for the health and welfare of dogs and cats.
1. Holmes MA, Ramey DW. An introduction to evidence-based veterinary medicine. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Equine Practice. 2007;23(2):191-200.
2. Holmes M. Practice-based clinical research: an introduction. In Practice. 2009;31(0):520-3.
3. O’Neill D, Church D, McGreevy P, Thomson P, Brodbelt D. Approaches to canine health surveillance. Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. 2014;1(1):2.
4. Egenvall A, Nødtvedt A, Penell J, Gunnarsson L, Bonnett BN. Insurance data for research in companion animals: benefits and limitations. Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica. 2009;51:42.
5. O’Neill DG, Church DB, McGreevy PD, Thomson PC, Brodbelt DC. Prevalence of disorders recorded in dogs attending primary-care veterinary practices in England. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(3):1-16.
6. Bellumori TP, Famula TR, Bannasch DL, Belanger JM, Oberbauer AM. Prevalence of inherited disorders among mixed-breed and purebred dogs: 27,254 cases (1995–2010). Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2013;242(11):1549-55.
7. Adams VJ, Evans KM, Sampson J, Wood JLN. Methods and mortality results of a health survey of purebred dogs in the UK. Journal of Small Animal Practice. 2010;51(10):512-24.
8. Brønden LB, Nielsen SS, Toft N, Kristensen AT. Data from the Danish Veterinary Cancer Registry on the occurrence and distribution of neoplasms in dogs in Denmark. Veterinary Record. 2010;166(19):586-90.

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