The Royal Veterinary College has published new evidence which shows that of the eight major disorders seen by veterinary surgeons in practice, dental disease, osteoarthritis and obesity have the highest overall welfare impact on affected dogs1.

The research, which was carried out by analysing data from 455,557 dogs which presented at veterinary practices participating in the College’s VetCompass programme, investigated the frequency, severity and duration of anal sac disorder, conjunctivitis, dental disease, dermatitis, obesity, lipoma, osteoarthritis and otitis externa.

The main findings were:

  • The most common conditions were dental disorder (9.6%), overweight/obese (5.7%) and anal sac disorder (4.5%)

  • The conditions that lasted the longest were dental disorders (76% of year), osteoarthritis (82%), and overweight/obese (70%)

  • Scoring out of 21, with higher scores for greater severity, the most severe conditions were osteoarthritis (13/21), otitis externa (11/21) and dermatitis (10/21).

The researchers say that by considering frequency, duration and severity together, the study showed that the conditions with the highest welfare impact overall are dental disease, osteoarthritis and obesity.

It is hoped these results can help vets to target conditions that have the greatest impact on dogs they treat. The evidence also shows owners the value of addressing these important conditions to improve their animal’s welfare. The study also provides evidence for other stakeholders on which conditions merit further research prioritisation.

Dave Brodbelt, Professor of Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine at the RVC and senior researcher on the study, said: "First opinion veterinary professionals see dogs presenting to them with a range of conditions everyday and understand what are the common diseases that they treat. Yet there is a need for clear evidence based welfare assessment of the major conditions of dogs. This work adds to our understanding by allowing the transparent comparison of commonly seen disorders in primary practice and highlights conditions with greatest welfare impact."

Dr Dan O’Neill, Senior lecturer in epidemiology at the RVC and co-author said: "During my 20 years as a first opinion vet, owners constantly asked me to advise them about the most important conditions that they should try to prevent in their dogs. At that time, I could not answer this as it was unknown to science. We now have this answer; and we can now advise owners to focus on dental health, monitoring for joint disease and to pay special attention to their dogs body condition score. Finally, we have the key to prioritising long-term health in dogs overall. This is a huge step forward to improving dog welfare; huge thanks to Dogs Trust for having the vision to support this work."

The study is freely available open access.


  1. Jennifer F. Summers, Dan G. O’Neill, David Church, Lisa Collins, David Sargan and David C. Brodbelt. Health-related welfare prioritisation of canine disorders using electronic health records in primary care practice in the UK. BMC Veterinary Research 201915:163,

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