Expert in canine health and pioneer of VetCompass celebrated with prestigious award

Dr Dan O’Neill has won the International award as part of one of the largest and most prestigious veterinary awards in the world, the International Canine Health Awards (ICHA). The accolade was awarded to Dr O’Neill in recognition of his expertise in evidence-based approaches to exploring canine health from a quantitative perspective.

Dr O’Neill is a Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Epidemiology at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). His core research roles relate to leading the VetCompass (Veterinary Companion Animal Surveillance System) programme, a not-for-profit research project at the RVC that uses anonymised clinical data shared from veterinary practices to investigate the frequency and nature of companion animal health problems. The VetCompass programme now shares data from 30% of UK veterinary practices and includes 10 million dogs.

Dr O’Neill has developed VetCompass into an international programme of research which widely influences canine welfare. He has built a programme of undergraduate and postgraduate research projects that includes over 20 projects annually and is working to introduce the VetCompass concept with collaborators in Australia, New Zealand, the US, Germany, Singapore and Canada.

The awards, which are organised by The Kennel Club Charitable Trust and underwritten by a major gift from Vernon and Shirley Hill, founders of Metro Bank, highlight those individuals who go one step further to promote the health and wellbeing of dogs through their work in the world of veterinary science. The winners are chosen by an independent international panel of eminent veterinarians and scientists. The ceremony will take place virtually on Wednesday 30 June at 14.00 BST, and details on how to view will be provided to those who register their interest. 

Much of Dr O’Neill’s work over the past decade has focused specifically on breed health in dogs. He has published many papers on the health conditions of specific breeds (e.g. Bulldog, German Shepherd Dog) or on breed-related disorders (e.g. corneal ulceration, dystocia). These papers now form a major part of The Kennel Club’s ‘Breed Health and Conservation Plans’ programme. Dr O’Neill is a keen collaborator and has developed very strong ties with many breed clubs and is a member of a number health and welfare reform groups.

Dr O’Neill is a firm believer that improved canine welfare should be built on collaboration, shared resources and inclusivity. He publishes all VetCompass research as open-access papers, as well as ensuring that his research findings are accessible to dog owners through infographics and press releases. Dr O’Neill is a prolific author and in the last 10 years alone has published 95 peer-reviewed scientific publications, 80 of which concern canine health.

After hearing of his award, Dr O’Neill said: “Winning this award makes me feel as giddy as a schoolchild receiving their first A on an essay after years of trying so hard to get better. We all need a pat on the back now and then so thank you to the International Canine Health Awards and The Kennel Club Charitable Trust for delivering such a nice pat!

“Winning this award will hugely enhance my work in the future by raising the profile of VetCompass and companion animal epidemiology as valued contributors towards improved canine welfare. And the monetary aspect of the award will support the development of the next generation of researchers into the novel and exciting world of VetCompass work on canine welfare.”

Dr O’Neill hopes to use the recognition and funding from this award to encourage and inspire the next generation of canine epidemiologists and to make his research findings accessible to dog owners in many new formats.

This year there were six International Canine Health Awards, two of which are open global awards: the International Award, with a prize of £40,000, and the Lifetime Achievement Award, with a prize of £10,000. There are two Undergraduate Student Inspiration Awards for students studying at UK veterinary schools, with a prize of £5,000 each, and the Breed Health Coordinator Award, with a prize of £5,000. This year there was also a Special Award with a prize of £5,000. One of Dr O’Neill’s students, Yan Hui Lee, was the recipient of one of the Undergraduate Student Inspiration Awards.

Dr Andrew Higgins, Chairman of the International Canine Health Awards panel and trustee of The Kennel Club Charitable Trust, which runs the awards, said: “We are so pleased to present the 2021 International Award to Dr Dan O’Neill. His passion and commitment to his work are commendable and have resulted in great strides being made in improving canine health and making a real difference to the lives and welfare of dogs.”

Vernon Hill, founder and chairman emeritus of Metro Bank, and whose major gift underwrites the International Canine Health Awards, said: “Many congratulations to Dr O’Neill, who is a very worthy winner of the International award. We are delighted to recognise his many years of dedicated work with this award and wish him all the best for the future.”

Find out more about the International Canine Health Awards.