Scientific highlights from Congress 2023

30 March 2023

Imported dogs, contextualised care, exotic pets, ‘Day in the Life of’ dramas and neurodiversity.

This year’s Congress provided a busy and stimulating scientific programme. We take a look at some of the scientific topics that got people talking!

Imported dogs

Imported dogs and the associated disease risk continues to be a popular topic, with most delegates in attendance at the imported dogs session having encountered dogs in practice with leishmaniasis or brucellosis (both diseases not endemic in the UK). The prevalence of Brucella canis is of increasing concern – although still rare in the UK, cases are rising (with most occurring in dogs imported from Eastern Europe), and there is still much we don’t know as the disease is subclinical and underdiagnosed. Particular risks come from the importation of potentially infected pregnant females whose puppies may become infected and then sold on, and the international puppy trade.

While disease risk is a focal concern, broader ethical considerations of importing dogs were also debated during a discussion panel. Imported dogs can have significant behavioural issues which make it difficult for them to adapt to life in the UK and may prove very challenging for owners.

A key concern highlighted is that owners are often not aware of the disease risk, welfare and financial implications of importing dogs. Raising awareness and pre-emptive education of owners seeking a dog from overseas, and improved regulation (for example, mandatory pre-import testing) are required to safeguard the health and welfare of dogs in the UK. Veterinary staff can be vigilant about any suspected cases of Brucella canis by asking owners if their dog or any other dogs in the household have travelled, and be conscious of any staff who are immunocompromised.

BSAVA has recently produced a Scientific Information Document on Brucella canis to provide relevant and easily accessible information to veterinary staff

Contextualised care

In light of the continuing cost-of-living crisis and new research showing that almost all vets have seen pets in the last 12 months that should have been brought for treatment earlier1, the subject of contextualised care is more topical than ever.

Adoption of the term ‘contextualised care’ reflects a move away from using the term ‘gold standard care’ which has been criticised for not sufficiently taking account of context. A contextualised care approach takes into consideration the context of the case, with input from the owner, to inform the decision-making process to provide suitable care for the animal.

Discussions in the ‘veterinary care on a shoestring’ sessions highlighted the importance of offering different treatment options, and open communication between vets and clients, including considering offering different methods for owners to communicate their decisions (for example, using questionnaires rather than face-to-face discussion).

Exotic pet care

With the rise in ownership of exotic pets and the range of species growing, an entire module was dedicated to the practicalities of caring for exotic species and broader discussions focused on the challenges of determining quality of life for exotics.

Quality of life can be very poor in some species, such as rabbits, and quality of life assessments are even harder for less common exotic pets, such as birds and reptiles. Much of this is attributed to a lack of understanding by owners of how to meet their pet’s welfare needs and how to recognise pain and distress, as well as a dearth of evidence-based information on husbandry.

Tackling these issues with owners can be difficult but there is clear role for veterinary staff in owner education and increasing the provision of information and advice, to improve owner understanding and the welfare of exotic pets.

‘Day in the Life of’ dramas

The ‘Day in the Life of’ dramas returned to Congress for the second year with interactive scenario-based sessions which explored how to manage real-life everyday events in practice.

Sessions included live case work ups with veterinarians Paul Higgs and Vicki Black on diagnosis of a tricky gastrointestinal case and a pyrexic dog, as well as sessions on the ethical challenges associated with end-of-life care and obesity management.

These sessions really brought learning to life, with delegates able to share their thoughts on the cases and participate in polls through a voting platform.


An estimated 15-20% (1 in 7) of the UK population is neurodivergent, yet prevalence within the veterinary profession is unknown.

Congress featured the first ever module on neurodiversity, with the aim of raising awareness of neurodiversity and the challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals. A key take-away was the abundance of resources available to help everyone make changes to support neurodivergent employees, colleagues and clients in practice.

Delegates who came to BSAVA Congress 2023 will shortly be able to access the lecture recordings via the BSAVA Library. Further information on this to follow.