A new study from the Royal Veterinary College has found that the most common health problem in dogs is dental disease, closely followed by ear infections and obesity. 

The study was part of the RVC’s VetCompass programme which include anonymised veterinary information from over eight million UK dogs. From this pool, a random sample of 22,333 dogs were followed for a year, identifying all health issues that were diagnosed during this time.

The study is one of the largest ever studies to explore the anonymised health records from veterinary surgeries and report on the most common disorders in dogs. The study also looked at whether the health of dogs varied by age, sex and whether the dogs were neutered.

The main findings were:

  • The most common health problems of dogs are dental disease (12.5%), ear infection (7.3%) and obesity (7.1%)
  • 65.8% of the observed dogs had at least one disorder in the single year of the study
  • Male dogs had higher risk than females for 10 disorders: ear infection, aggression, coughing, seizures, foreign body, drug reaction, moist dermatitis, wound, laceration and arthritis
  • Female dogs had higher risk than males for four disorders: urinary incontinence, urinary tract infection, mammary lump and overgrown nails
  • The study showed that health in dogs generally deteriorates as dogs age, with older dogs generally having more health problems per year than younger dogs.

Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior Lecturer, Companion Animal Epidemiology at the RVC and lead author of the paper, said: "This study shows that it is really important for owners to develop strong habits of caring for their dog’s teeth, ears and weight, right from the time they first acquire a puppy.

"This study shows interesting and strong correlations between human and canine healthcare: the need for good dental and bodyweight maintenance. Given how closely the lives of humans and dogs are intertwined, this should be no surprise really; we often share the same food and exercise. Owners should work closely with their vet to plan appropriate dental and weight care programmes at each visit to their veterinary clinic.”

Hannah James, Health Research Manager at the Kennel Club, and co-author of the paper, said: "As dog owners, the key priority is keeping our pets healthy and happy, but it can be difficult to put into context the most common problems that affect our canine counterparts and which areas we need to pay particular attention to in order to maintain this. These findings help us establish these key areas, and where we as owners, vets and organisational bodies can work towards to improve the day-to-day life of our beloved companions."


O'Neill, D.G., James, H., Church, D.B., Brodbelt, D.C. and Pegram, C. (2021) 'Prevalence of commonly diagnosed disorders in UK dogs under primary veterinary care: results and applications', BMC Veterinary Research.

Photo: Uwe Gelle

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