Which canine diseases should be prioritised for surveillance and control in the UK?

18 October 2023

A new study by Cuartero et al. published in Vet Record is the first to use a stakeholder opinion-led approach to identify canine infectious diseases that are of the highest relevance in the epidemiological context of the UK, for prioritisation in a surveillance and response strategy1.



The study authors consider that despite an increase in disease surveillance in companion animals, a lack of coordinated national and international strategies for the early detection and control of infectious diseases leaves populations vulnerable to disease outbreaks and the emergence of other health threats. To maximise the effectiveness of any national epidemic response strategy, the most impactful infectious diseases should be prioritised for inclusion in surveillance and control programmes.

How was the study conducted?

Study participants were selected through a stakeholder analysis process, by targeting institutions that have a relevant role in canine and public health in the UK. Using an online survey, participants were asked to identify up to three relevant diseases, for the groups of endemic diseases, exotic diseases and syndromes, to include in a future epidemic response framework. A Multicriteria decision analysis (MCDA) was carried out to select and weight epidemiological criteria for prioritising canine diseases. Participants were asked to suggest up to five epidemiological criteria that could be used to evaluate the relevance of canine infectious diseases in a UK context, which were pooled for analysis and grouped into themes and subsequently used to generate an overall theme score or ‘weight’. Canine diseases were scored and ranked through a Delphi panel (a consensus-building technique). Nineteen individuals from 16 institutions contributed to the study.

What did the study find?

Leptospirosis and parvovirus were identified as the top two endemic diseases of concern, with distemper, lungworm and Alabama rot making up the rest of the top five. In the exotic diseases group, leishmaniosis and babesiosis were the top two diseases identified, followed by ehrlichiosis, dirofilariasis and canine influenza. Respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases were identified as the top two syndromes of concern.

The themes with the highest rated scores were ‘amount of disease in the UK’ and ‘public health impact of disease’ for endemic diseases and ‘impact on public health’ and ‘impact of disease on dog welfare’ for exotic diseases. ‘Economic impact of disease’ was the lowest-rated theme for both endemic and exotic diseases.

The number and diversity of participants recruited in the study was restricted by the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in several potential participants being unable to participate, particularly stakeholders in the veterinary diagnostic laboratories sector. Nevertheless, the researchers used a purposive sampling approach to ensure that stakeholders from a variety of backgrounds were involved.

What are the implications?

By consulting a multidisciplinary stakeholder group and harnessing expert opinion, the research found a general consensus among participants on which canine diseases and syndromes are the most pertinent for surveillance in the UK and better reflect the canine sector’s needs. SAVSNET-Agile (an interdisciplinary collaboration that aims to improve the response to diseases in the UK canine population) has developed an early detection system, which recently enabled a rapid response to two canine gastroenteritis outbreaks in the UK2. Building on the disease/syndrome prioritisation in this study, the system will be expanded in future to detect outbreaks of other syndromes, such as respiratory disease. The list of priority diseases will need to be regularly reviewed and updated to take account of the UK’s changing epidemiological and socioeconomic characteristics.

Take home message

Leptospirosis and parvovirus, and leishmaniosis and babesiosis were identified as the top endemic and exotic canine diseases of concern, respectively, by the multidisciplinary stakeholder group. Respiratory and gastrointestinal diseases were identified as the syndromes of most concern, possibly because these are two of the most common presenting complaints in first–opinion small animal consultations. This information can feed into the development of a nationwide epidemic response framework, to improve the early detection of and response to canine disease outbreaks.



1Cuartero CT, Radford AD, Szilassy E, Newton JR and Sánchez-Vizcaíno F (2023) Stakeholder opinion-led study to identify canine priority diseases for surveillance and control in the UK. Vet Record. https://doi.org/10.1002/vetr.3167

2Collins M, Singleton DA, Noble PJM, Pinchbeck GL, Smith S, Brant B et al. (2021) Small animal disease surveillance 2020/21: SARS-CoV-2, syndromic surveillance and an outbreak of acute vomiting in UK dogs. Vet Record. 188 (8), 283-320.


Further resources

BSAVA disease factsheets (Scientific Information Documents) on various small animal diseases https://www.bsavalibrary.com/content/disease-factsheets

BSAVA library collection on zoonotic diseases https://www.bsavalibrary.com/content/zoonotic-diseases

SAVSNET was established by BSAVA and currently is run by Liverpool University supported by funding from BBSRC https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/savsnet/about/

APHA’s Small Animal Expert Group (SAEG), was established through collaborative working by APHA and BSAVA. Its members include representatives from the leading small animal welfare organisations in the UK who work together to gather, analyse, and share information on small animal health surveillance and identify potential threats in all pets including exotics http://apha.defra.gov.uk/vet-gateway/surveillance/seg/Small-animal.htm