Forces Shaping Animal Health

The world of animal health is undergoing change at a breakneck speed. As populations expand, the world becomes more interconnected, conflicts grow, our climate changes and more, which increasingly challenges our ability to raise healthy animals. Here are just a few of the trends that will shape how our world must respond in order to ensure animals remain healthy, productive and contributing to our well-being.

Climate change

  • Diseases such as Bluetongue, West Nile and Schmallenburg virus have expanded into northern Europe, Australia, South America and Africa now that the midge species that transmit these viruses are able to survive winter at higher latitudes.1
  • Droughts are expanding worldwide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, which withers pasturelands and makes it more difficult for farmers to keep their livestock fed and healthy.
  • Increases in temperature and humidity strengthen certain pathogens. This can worsen outbreaks and make it even more difficult for farmers, especially in developing countries, to provide for their family and community.

Travel and trade

  • There has been a threefold increase in air passengers and air freight over the past 25 years. As a result, global diseases like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrom (SARS) spread more easily and rapidly than ever before. Infected passengers can board a plane in one country and disembark in another before even developing symptoms2.
  • Rising international trade of food between markets means rigorous, harmonized global food standards are needed to ensure free flow of trade and prevent disease.
  • Trade in ‘bush meat’ – driven by poverty and hunger – has accelerated dispersal of viruses such as Ebola and Congo fever.

Growing global conflicts

  • Healthcare systems, local veterinary services and disease monitoring break down when conflict breaks out and zoonotic diseases often skyrocket among populations caught in the middle.
  • Since the eruption of civil war in Syria, NGOs like Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) have reported higher levels of rabies, hemorrhagic fever, brucellosis and leishmaniasis – zoonotic diseases that can be controlled and prevented when veterinary services are functioning properly.

Modernisation of livestock production

  • Diseases are easier to control in larger, more efficient production systems than traditional small enterprises.
  • Pigs, cows and poultry produce more offspring and are more efficient in converting plant protein from their food into animal protein.
  • The increase in animal protein production in the developing world means more people have access to key micronutrients found in animal products, such as Vitamin B12, Zinc and iron.

Growing middle class

  • By 2030, the global middle class is expected to grow by three billion – more than entire population of North America, South America, Europe and Africa...combined.
  • Demand for meat will rise significantly alongside this burgeoning middle class. Meeting their needs requires more efficient production that safeguards the sustainability of our food supply.
  • Animal health companies worldwide are investing billions in new medicines that help protect animals and improve production, however, greater cooperation is needed to ensure they reach veterinarians and farmers.

Changing preferences in the developed world

  • Increasing awareness of the connection between human, animal and environmental health, a growing awareness of animal welfare issues.
  • An increase in popularity of welfare-branded, organic, slow and local food is changing Consumer preferences are driving retailers towards ‘farm to fork’ style marketing.

Pets in our Lives

Each year, households around the worldwide open their doors and adopt a pet into the family. Millions of dogs and cats provide companionship and emotional support to their owner, enhancing their health, wellbeing and quality of life. This is especially true in aging populations where pets have been shown to increase physical activity and develop an rewarding bond with their owner5. In fact, studies have found that people with pets report fewer visits to the doctor 6.

Products like parasiticides, which control parasites in animals, have made it safer for pets to live healthy lives inside our homes. This is especially important in smaller, urban housing in developing regions where animals can quickly spread illness.

Pets are also living longer, better quality lives thanks to an increasing number of nutritional and medical products that can address diabetes, obesity, pain, cancer and age-related diseases.

Dogs around the world

United States - Labrador Leaders

70 million dogs live across the United States, with Labrador retrievers as the most popular breed. That’s more than the combined population of 28 states!7.

Brazil – Petite puppy professionals

Like a dog that can fit in your purse? You’ll be in good company in Brazil, which has more small dogs per person than any other country!

Norway – Greyhound gourmands

Dogs could double as food critics in Norway where citizens spend more on pet food (50% more than 2nd place Sweden) than anywhere else9.

Mexico and Argentina – Canine champions

These Latin American nations are true dog lovers. Two out of every three people live with at least one dog – the highest rate in the world10.

India – Proliferating pups

As the Indian middle class grows, so does the pet population. The total number of dogs rose 58% between 2007 and 2012 – the fastest rate of any country11.

Kenya - Dog Defenders

Kenya is leading Africa in making sure their dogs are protected. In 2014, the Kenyan government launched the first national strategy for controlling and eliminating rabies in humans through improved animal vaccination.

One of the family?

A trend towards ‘humanising’ pets’ is growing in richer countries, as owners increasingly treat pets like one of the family. For example, in India, owners may now have cooked-to-order meals delivered to their pets 14.

It may sound like just another way to show your pet love, however, when pets eat like people it means facing the same issues.15 16

Just as in the human population, obesity is associated with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and liver disease. Coupled with closer living conditions, this increases opportunities for transmission of disease from pets to owners.

Evolving role of Veterinarians

An evolving profession: veterinarians in the developed world

The increasing specialisation and sophistication of veterinary services in the developed world means pets are living longer than ever before, and livestock animals are living healthier lives 17.

Newly-qualified veterinarians are trained to treat all animals, but in practice are likely to deal with only a few species. In addition, veterinarians are increasingly likely to pursue a clinical interest, such as orthopaedic surgery, ophthalmology or dermatology. This focus is creating deeper wells of specialisation in the field that can more quickly and effectively identify problems and provide treatments to animals when needed.

However, this increasing specialisation, along with other factors like salary and changing preferences, has created challenges in the large-animal veterinarians sector where shortages have emerged and personnel are not there to fill the gaps 18.

Veterinarians in emerging and developing

In developing economies with major export markets for animal products – such as Brazil or Thailand – veterinarians are highly specialised advisers providing guidance on health and nutrition at a herd level. They are experienced in helping prevent the spread of disease across a farm or community.

However, many smallholder farmers with just a few head of cattle or a small flock of chickens cannot always afford professional advice or certain treatments. Smallholders often rely on their animals for contributions across their farm, from milk and eggs for their family to manure and labor in the fields. When their animals are stricken with disease it is an enormous threat to their livelihood.

Public-private partnerships are helping address this issue in many regions. However, as as national government support for veterinarians and animal medicines shrinks, the problem may get worse.

Animal Disease around the Globe

  • Viral, mosquito-transmitted disease that can cause fatal neurological disease in humans and horses20.
  • First appeared in new York State in 1999 and has since sickened more than 40,000 people and killed nearly 2,000. recovery form serious cases can take weeks or months, and any damage to the nervous system can be permanent21 22.
  • One of the most common zoonotic diseases, found on every continent apart from Antarctica.
  • Caused by spore-forming bacterium Bacillus anthracis, present in soil, which can be swallowed by grazing animals. The disease produces powerful toxins and is typically fatal.
  • Once called ‘wool sorters disease’ since spores can be spread to humans by handling contaminated sheep’s wool.
  • Emerging disease of intensive pig units, first detected in early 1980s.
  • Causes diarrhoea and increased mortality in piglets – as well as lesions on the snout and feet like those caused by foot-and-mouth disease.
  • Little known about disease transmission and no treatment available.
  • Significant cause of economic losses for South American cattle industry because condition causes stillbirths in herd.
  • Caused by bacteria passed on through birth fluids and also attacks joints, causing arthritis.
  • Bacteria cause undulant fever in people – usually farmers and vets – through breaks in the skin or contaminated milk.
  • Human disease caused by tapeworm found in pigs.
  • Common in poor communities in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia where up to 25% of the population may be affected.
  • Caused by the ingestion of the parasite eggs in water or unwashed vegetables, contaminated with faeces of free-roaming pigs.
  • The brain is a common target in people, where larvae may cause severe headaches, seizures or death.
  • Bee colonies in South America infected with this bacterial infection, causing heavy mortality in bee larvae.
  • Disease transmitted from hive to hive by spores on adult bees, or in honey or wax combs.
  • Has a major impact on agriculture, where pollination of high value crops, such as almonds, is reliant on domestic bees for pollination.
  • Further emerging threat is colony collapse disorder, which results in disappearance of adult bees from the hive – cause of condition is still unknown.
  • One of the most significant zoonotic diseases. Results in progressive weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss and a persistent cough in infected cattle – spread through droplets expelled in coughing and urine.
  • Humans can contract disease through infected, unpasteurised dairy products.
  • The condition has hit the UK especially hard, where over 26,000 cattle are slaughtered every year to avoid further spread, costing taxpayers over £500 million in the past 10 years.
  • Probably most widely distributed of food-borne diseases with tens of millions of human cases around the world each year, and estimated 100,000 deaths.
  • Bacterium cause severe gastrointestinal disease and, if spread to the blood stream, can cause death in humans – the result of eating contaminated or undercooked, unpasteurised meat, eggs or dairy products.
  • In Europe, it remains a dangerous threat, however, as animal medicine has improved control measures, recent trends have shown a drop in the numbers of cases.
  • Highly contagious virus of domesticated and wild pigs – causes fever, loss of appetite, haemorrhages in skin and internal organs and death within two to 10 days of infection.
  • Pigs infected after being bitten by soft tick Ornithodoros moubata (among others) and mortality rates in affected groups of pigs can be up to 100%.
  • Infection can be passed on in bodily fluids and tissues from live animals or in unprocessed meat – people working with pigs can also carry virus on hands and clothing.
  • A new and emerging disease in people that appears to have crossed from animal to human. Connection established with virus found in camels but original source of pathogen still unknown.
  • Symptoms included fever, coughing, shortness of breath, pneumonia and occasionally diarrhoea - fatality rate is around 36%.
  • Infection first reported in 2012 and over the next three years responsible for more than 500 deaths around the Arabian Peninsula. With no treatment available and a high fatality rate, human and animal health experts are working to track cases closely to prevent outbreaks.
  • Endemic in most of Asia, Africa, and some countries of North and South America, and can wipe out entire flocks of chicken.
  • Virus is carried by pigeons and other wild birds - transmission occurs by direct contact with carrier birds or their faeces. Clinical signs include coughing, tremors and diarrhoea.
  • Home-raised, backyard chickens are at particular risk from the disease, with devastating consequences for some of the poorest families.
  • Viral condition in cattle believed to be transmitted by mosquitoes and other flies.
  • Transmissible to various antelopes and other wild ruminants – causes lesions in the mouth, larynx and respiratory tract, which may lead to severe emaciation.
  • In some herds up to 45% of cattle will be affected with a mortality rate of around 10%.
  • Currently the most economically significant livestock condition in the world. It can cause up to US$21 billion in annual losses – greater than the GDP of 35 different African nations.
  • Causes fever and blistering of the mouth and hoof area – especially devastating to young animals who may develop heart conditions or waste away when the mother stops producing milk. Those that survive will be stunted with their productivity permanently reduced.
  • Appears to have originated in Europe before 17th century and was inadvertently exported around the world as trade in live cattle grew.
  • Causes annual losses in productivity estimated at around €45 million a year.
  • Caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides, which causes respiratory disease in cattle and water buffalo – up to 50% of cases are fatal.
  • Virus causes fever and death in young animals and abortion in pregnant females, may progress to severe neurological symptoms.
  • Outbreaks of severe, deadly forms in humans has occurred in numerous African countries in the past 15 years. First cases outside Africa occurred in 2000 in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, raising possibility that the disease could establish itself in Asia or Europe.
  • Outbreaks associated with heavy rains that encourage the spread of the mosquito species responsible for transmitting virus.
  • Influenza is a RNA virus, a class of pathogens prone to rapid unpredictable genetic changes. The variety of strains makes it difficult to control and has helped it spread around the globe.
  • Responsible for around 850 human cases and around 450 confirmed deaths – a shocking 50%+ fatality rate-- as well as tens of millions of poultry killed by disease or slaughtered in control operations.
  • With its high fatality rate amongst humans, human and animal health professionals must remain vigilant to prevent an outbreak that could spread easily in the environment.
  • Viral condition in sheep and goats that was originally confined to central and eastern Africa and Arabian Peninsula but has spread across the Middle East and south Asia, reaching China in 2007.
  • Causes ulcerations in mouth and throat, fever, diarrhoea, pneumonia and sometimes death.
  • 15-year campaign, led by OIE, to eliminate the disease by 2030 currently in progress.
  • Perhaps the best-known of all zoonotic conditions, passed from animals to humans.
  • Virus affects central nervous system and is almost invariably fatal – responsible for around 60,000 deaths a year worldwide, mostly in children in south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Systematic vaccination campaigns for owned and feral dogs have substantially reduced numbers of human cases in East Africa - similar projects underway in other countries, notably India and the Philippines.
  • Zoonotic condition that may be newest and rarest in the world.
  • First detected in 1994 at a horserace yard in the Brisbane suburb from which it takes its name and causes respiratory and neurological symptoms in all patients.
  • Several outbreaks in which four out of seven affected humans died, along with around 70% of horses.
  • Significant cause of illness and lost production for Australian sheep industry, costing around Aus $400 million a year.
  • Worms compete with sheep for nutrients in food and feed on host’s blood, causing anaemia, diarrhoea and weight loss.
  • Resistance emerging even in newer treatments, promoting fresh research for innovative new methods.
  • Exotic virus that reached Australia in insects carried by wind from island states to the north.
  • Mortality rates can reach as high as 70% in deadly outrbreaks.
  • Established in Queensland and the Northern Territory, Australia, but has not yet reached main sheep-breeding areas of southern states.

Animal Disease around the Globe

Each year, families, communities and countries worldwide suffer unmeasurable consequences from disease. It devastates livestock herds, harms our pets and can damage our health. The below map highlights some of the deadliest animal diseases members of the World Veterinarians Association are tackling in each region.

Disease Eradication

Led by institutions like the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), global eradication efforts have successfully eliminated some of the world’s most dangerous diseases and are well on their way to tackling others.

Once a ‘scourge of societies’ and considered ‘one of the most dreaded animal diseases in history’52, rinderpest was declared officially eradicated in 2011. The disease was highly fatal to livestock, often killing entire herds and devastating rural communities. A devastating outbreak in 1910 led to the creation of the World Organisation for Animal Health, which later led the vaccination campaigns that were the key to eliminating the disease.53

Officially eradicated in 1980, smallpox was the first human disease fought on the global level. Nearly 1 out of 3 people who contracted the disease would die51. Global cooperation through vaccination campaigns, surveillance and prevention measures eliminated smallpox and showed disease eradication was achievable.

Around 70 countries have seen outbreaks of PPR since it was first identified in 1942, with losses as high as a staggering USD$2.1 billion each year. The disease destroys the food and nutrition security of communities. OIE and FAO are working to eradicate this disease by 2030.54

Every 10 minutes, a person will die from rabies, leading to 60,000 deaths per year. The preventable disease spreads to humans through a rabid animal bite, however, simple, inexpensive vaccinations can prevent animals from ever contracting the disease. Global eradication efforts are underway in all regions, Latin America has reduced cases 90% in the past 20 years, making many hopeful that this devastating disease can be eliminated in humans.

Future of Animal Health