Improving Pet Health Through Community Research Involvement

Posted on by Nate Spofford, MPH

I’ve been a pet owner my entire life. From my earliest recollections, I have countless memories of experiencing joy, comfort and understanding as a result of my interactions with animals. Perhaps as a result of those lifelong bonds, I’ve always considered our pets to be more than just animals—they’re full-fledged members of the family. This appears to be a popular and rapidly growing point of view, as the 2012 edition of the American Veterinary Medical Association U.S. Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook reports that that 63.2 percent of U.S. pet owners consider their pets to be family members, up from 49.7 percent in 2006.1

As pets have become increasingly accepted as members of the family unit, there has been a concomitant shift in public and business policies and practices to be more accommodating to pet owners.  A recent survey by Apartments.com found a substantial increase from 2012 to 2013 in both the number of renters who have pets and the number of apartment buildings that allow pets.2 The phenomenon is not confined to our homes; data from the Trust for Public Land shows that from 2006-2011 off-leash dog parks were the fastest-growing segment of city parks.3

This growing integration of animals into our communities has come about largely as a result of pet owners identifying the need for change and working closely with policy makers to see it enacted. In a similar vein, there is an opportunity for pet owners to work with researchers and clinicians to help identify research topics that they think are important. In the human healthcare field, community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a burgeoning research movement that emphasizes partnership with community members and healthcare providers such that representatives are involved throughout the research process, including definition of the research problem, interpretation of the data, and application of the findings.4,5 When key stakeholders are included from the outset, research studies have the potential to be more pertinent to the needs of the community and their findings more practical for real-world application.4

As an increasing number of communities spring up around the shared love of animals there is potential for the veterinary profession to embrace the tenets of CBPR to improve the lives of pets. In addition to identifying important questions that may otherwise go unasked, getting community members, clinicians, and other veterinary professionals involved in the identification and exploration of issues that are important to them can lead to unique knowledge and improved practices that will benefit pets and their owners alike. By encouraging pet owner involvement, CBPR can also help to engage and empower owners in their pets’ healthcare and serve to further strengthen their partnership with their veterinarian. As a veterinary professional what do you think about the potential for CBPR in veterinary medicine?

  1. AVMA. US pet ownership and demographics sourcebook (2012). Schaumburg, Ill: AVMA, 2012.
  2. Apartments.com. More Renters Seeking Pet-Friendly Apartments. May 6, 2013.
  3. USA TODAY. Fastest-growing urban parks are for the dogs. December 8, 2011.
  4. Julie A Schmittdiel JA, Grumbach K, Selby JV. System-based participatory research in health care: An approach for sustainable translational research and quality improvement. Ann Fam Med. 2010;8:256-259.
  5. Leung MW, Yen IH, Minkler M. Community based participatory research: a promising approach for increasing epidemiology’s relevance in the 21st century. Int. J. Epidemiol. 2004;33(3):499-506.

About Nate Spofford, MPH

Nate Spofford, MPH, received his Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of Puget Sound in 2003 and his Master of Public Health degree from Portland State University in 2008. He has experience in basic science, public health and clinical research and is a member of the Evidence-Based Veterinary Medicine Association. Nate joined Banfield in 2011 and is currently a Senior Research Specialist on the Banfield Applied Research & Knowledge (BARK) team. He lives in Portland, Ore., with his wife, Kenzin, daughter Madeleine, and cat Smallie. View all posts by Nate Spofford, MPH →


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