Our research

Who we are and what we fund

The British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) has been supporting small animal clinical research since 1974 initially through the Clinical Studies Trust Fund, which was later brought “in-house” and renamed PetSavers. The PetSavers charity was set up to improve the health of pets. It funds vital clinical research designed to advance our knowledge of conditions affecting small animals and with potential to relieve illness and suffering.

Our funding provides a lifeline for clinicians and researchers, as grant funding for small animal clinical research is notoriously difficult to access. Our priority is to support clinical research designed to improve our knowledge and understanding of conditions affecting small animals. The research projects are selected in the hope that study results will have a rapid and positive impact on the way diseases are diagnosed, managed and treated in general practice as well as at a specialist level.

A project will only be considered by PetSavers to constitute ‘small animal clinical research’ if it meets the following criteria:

  • The study involves only naturally occurring disease in small animals; there must be no experimental or artificial induction of disease.
  • Any interventions on animals (including obtaining samples) would be considered part of Recognised Veterinary Practice
  • The anticipated results of the study will result in a change in diagnosis or management of small animal disease.
  • The study is supervised by people with veterinary clinical skills and knowledge.       

Meet the Researchers

Our Grants

Currently we offer funding for five types of grants – a Master's Degree by Research, Clinical Research Projects, Student Research Projects, Cardiovascular Society Research Projects, and Citizen Science Projects. 

Clinical Research Project

These grants of up to £10,000 are available to qualified veterinary surgeons or veterinary nurses to enable them to undertake small-scale clinical research projects intended to further our knowledge of the diagnosis and management of conditions affecting small animals.

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Student Research Project

PetSavers also awards a number of annual student grants to encourage the next generation of veterinary researchers. The awards include a student stipend, £500 for consumables, and the opportunity and funding to present at BSAVA Congress.

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Master's Degree by Research

This funds a postgraduate student to work full time on a specific research project, giving them the opportunity to carry out clinical research and receive training in research skills.

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2016 grants

The grants outlined below were awarded in 2016 and are currently being researched.  

Clinical Research Projects

The relationship between haemoglobin A1c measured in a novel immunoturbidity assay, other markers of glycaemic control and outcomes of diabetes mellitus in dogs

The relationship between the clinical control of canine diabetes mellitus and markers of diabetic control, such as average blood glucose, blood glucose curves and fructosamines, is not well established. In humans a form of glycated haemoglobin called haemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) has been shown to be a highly specific and reliable biomarker for the long term control of diabetes mellitus. Increasing values of HbA1c in humans correspond to increased risk of diabetic complications. HbA1c has two advantages over fructosamines; it is less affected by other clinical conditions and provides a longer term estimate of average glycaemic control. Previous studies in dogs have generally measured glycated haemoglobin and these assays are no longer available. 

Recently we have validated a new immunoturbidity assay that measures HbA1c in dogs. The aim of this study is to compare HbA1c, fructosamines and mean blood glucose measurements as markers of outcome (cataracts, hypoglycaemic episodes, ketoacidosis, pancreatitis, urinary tract infections) in recently stabilised diabetic dogs. The ultimate goal is to identify appropriate intervention points for use in practice but without identifying an effective measure of outcome first such intervention points are necessarily only estimates.


Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: Exploration of signalling pathways to unravel disease mechanisms that drive fibrosis and ventricular hypertrophy

Background: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) has a high prevalence of over 15% in cats. Interstitial fibrosis is both a hallmark of HCM and importantly a key driving force for left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH). Upregulation of crucial pro-fibrotic signalling pathways including the transforming growth factor beta (TGFβ)/SMAD pathway and the lumican and lysyl oxidase (LOX)/ nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NFĸB) pathway have been identified in left ventricular (LV) tissue from rodent models of HCM and human HCM patients. 
Hypothesis: Cardiac fibrosis in feline HCM is regulated by signalling through the TGFβ/SMAD and Lumican - LOX/NFĸB pathways.  
Pilot Data: Our pilot data (shown later) indicates that lumican and LOX (important molecular drivers of cardiac fibrosis) are increased in atrial tissue from cats with HCM 
Aims and methods: We aim to extend these results by examining the expression of a larger number of pro-fibrotic mediators (based on published data from rodent models and human patients) including lumican, LOX, TGFβ and NFĸB at the transcriptional and translational level. To do this we will use Multiplex PCR, immunohistochemistry (IHC) and Western Blot (WB) in LV samples from 15 HCM affected and 15 normal cats. Exploring the activation of these pathways in the LV (as opposed to atria) is crucial since the influence of HCM causing mutations on pro-fibrotic pathways is most apparent within the high pressure LV. This proposal will benefit from our ongoing exciting collaboration with Dr David Hodson Senior Fellow at the Institute of Metabolism and Systems Research University of Birmingham exploring intracellular signalling pathways that drive pathological LV remodelling in feline HCM.
Clinical importance: Identifying which pro-fibrotic signalling pathways are active in feline HCM will form the foundation for future studies to explore their interactions.  Manipulation of these pathways with novel agents such as selective NFĸB and SMAD inhibitors represents a powerful therapeutic approach for the management of the fibrosis and LVH associated with HCM.


Resistance of canine Staphylococcus pseudintermedius to selected topical and systemic antimicrobials in the UK.

Staphylcococcus pseudintermedius is the main mucosal coagulase positive staphylococcal commensal of dogs, but also a major opportunistic pathogen and potentially zoonotic for immune-suppressed people. Recently, meticillin resistant S. pseudintermedius (MRSP) clones have emerged and disseminated globally. These clones are multidrug resistant (resistant to three or more antimicrobial classes) and often pan-resistant (Perreten et al 2010). Treatment options are often limited to topical antimicrobials for localised and/or superficial skin infections, but for deep, severe and/or widespread skin infections or systemic infections therapeutic options are lacking. Extra-label use of unauthorised systemic antimicrobials is permitted under the cascade but pharmacokinetic (PK) and pharmacodynamics (PD) data for these drugs is limited or unavailable.

This study would aim to investigate and characterise resistance to topical and systemic antimicrobials including fusidic acid, mupirocin and chlorhexidine, minocycline and florfenicol amongst UK MRSP and methicillin susceptible (MSSP) isolates. This study will provide important local and national resistance patterns for this canine pathogen that can be used to guide treatment. Providing the appropriate treatment of canine MRSP infections is an animal welfare issue. Furthermore the results will provide data that can be used in future studies for the determination of antimicrobial resistance breakpoints (cut offs) in dogs for the tested antimicrobials.

Student Research Projects

Erythropoietin in Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour Disease

Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour (CTVT) is unusual in that the cancer causing agent is a dog cell line that in essence uses the affected dogs as a culture vessel. The cancer is spread by direct contact (usually via sexual transmission) and is found in many parts of the world where there are large numbers of free ranging dogs. Dr Murchison has preliminary data demonstrating that the tumour causes higher levels of erythropoietin (a hormone that encourages the production of red blood cells) in affected dogs. This is probably a way in which the tumour manipulates its host to increase its own blood supply.  This project will focus on confirming that the increased erthryopoetin is being produced by the tumour cells. If proved this potentially opens up new areas of cancer therapeutics in dogs.


Is primary tumour growth associated with a shift in tau protein status in the canine brain?

Brain tumours are a common reason for dogs to be referred to a specialist neurology service.  This typically happens at a late disease stage – a stage which is difficult to treat and significantly compromises patient welfare.  Brain tumours are also challenging to diagnose and classify to a level that can inform clinicians of the best treatment option.  Often, the definitive diagnosis relies on post-mortem analysis.  Furthermore, we currently have a poor understanding of how and why tumours develop in the canine brain, although there has been increasing evidence to support the ‘cancer stem cell hypothesis’ in which a rare group of tumour cells with stem cell features (including the capacity to self renew) is responsible for tumour growth, resistance, and recurrence.  We urgently need to deepen our understanding of brain tumour development in order to identify new markers that will help us to diagnose these lesions faster and treat them in a more targeted manner.  Any novel diagnostic markers must first be validated against the pathological diagnosis of the tumour using a brain tissue sample.  We have recently developed a brain bank for companion animals that can support research of this nature.  Brains are collected and archived from animals that have been euthanased on welfare grounds for a terminal condition with full consent of their owner.  Diagnostic evaluation of the tissue is performed by qualified veterinary pathologists. 

One protein that requires further study in the canine brain is tau.  Tau protein is highly abundant in nerve cells and undergoes modifications during brain development, under certain physiological conditions that promote brain protection, and in the disease state.  Certain changes in tau have been linked to both neurodegenerative disorders (e.g. Alzheimer’s disease) and also tumours.  It might seem counterintuitive for this protein to play a role in seemingly opposite disease processes, however there is evidence to suggest that tau interacts with overlapping biological pathways involved in both the failed regeneration of degenerating nerve cells and the aberrant growth of cells observed in cancer.  This study asks whether tumours that develop within the canine brain are associated with changes in tau, and whether these changes in tau are specific for tumour development or reflect more general changes that might be expected in for any lesion that affects brain tissue.   In order to answer this question, we will characterize and compare tau expression in post-mortem brain tissue from three groups of dogs: (1) with brain tumours, (2) with other brain lesions and (3) with normal brains.  If specific changes in tau can be mapped to specific disease processes, tau profiling, either via tissue biopsy or by analysis of the fluid that bathes the brain, may become a useful tool with which to diagnose these conditions sooner in live patients.  Furthermore, it may pave the way for tau-targeted treatments to help manage certain aspects of tumour growth.  Ultimately, rapid diagnosis and a better understanding of the disease process will advance our capacity to treat brain tumours and improve the welfare of pet dogs.

3D Quantification and Characterisation of spinal cord dorsal horn neuronal population (lamine I to V) in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with Syringomyelia

Syringomyelia is a painful condition characterised by fluid filled cavitation off the spinal cord. This disease has high prevalence in toy breed dogs and is a serious welfare concern.  A classic sign of the severe syringolmyelia is tendency to scratch towards one shoulder, often when the dog is walked or on a lead.  Commonly referred to as phantom scratching, affected dogs are often unable to walk normally.  The sign is easy to recognise however the underlying mechanism is not understood.  In previous PetSavers funded research we showed phantom scratching is associated with a large dorsolateral syrinx that extends to the superficial dorsal horn in the cervical spinal cord (C3-C6 spinal segments corresponding to C2-C5 vertebrae)  WE propose that phantom scratching was due to damage to superficial dorsal horn neuron and consequently inhibitory interneurons which influence on the lumbosacral scratching central pattern generator (I.e. the neural network that produces a rhythmical scratching action of the hind limb). An extension of that work to be undertaken by the same student researcher will examine the quantitative histopathology of the dorsal horn neurons damage by syringolmyelia in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels (CKCS) with and without phantom scratching.


Developing novel biocompatible and antimicrobial coatings for orthopaedic implants in dogs

Many millions of orthopaedic surgeries including arthroplasties take place worldwide each year in dogs. Bacterial infections leading to implant failure occur in around 5% of cases, often resulting in implant removal due to infections each year. Infections, often caused by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, may occur during surgery or much later (up to one year) via the blood. Bacteria are protected from antibiotics and the body’s immune defence system by the implant material. This project will examine whether dog bone marrow stem cells, collected from the bone removed during routine surgery, can grow in the presence of a novel titanium dioxide “smart” implant coating, developed by the Engineering Department at Bristol, which can prevent bacterial colonisation. 


Immunohistochemical characterisation of feline idiopathic lymphocytic-plasmacytic anterior uveitis

The  project looks at a disease in cats called “idiopathic anterior uveitis” (IAU), which is when the cats own immune system attacks part of the eye causing it to become inflamed and painful. Without treatment it can lead to blindness, and often patients will have to have an eye removed because of the pain. What triggers IAU isn’t understood, and the purpose of this project was to look at some of the types of immune cells present in the eyes of cats suffering from this disease to get a better idea of its cause and hopefully inform better treatments. I got some samples of eyes of cats that had them removed because of IAU, and used a staining technique called immunohistochemistry to highlight the cells I was interested in and count them. We compared the number of cells between eyes that had different levels of inflammation. We found that regulatory T cells, a type of immune cell that acts to stop other kinds of immune cells from damaging the body, were more common in more inflamed eyes. This means that higher numbers of these cells does not protect against the IAU  like we thought may be the case, and that the disease probably isn’t caused by a lack of these cells causing the body to attack itself. We also showed that a marker for a kind of inflammatory cell, IL17A, was present in eyes with IAU, but not in eyes with inflammation caused by a virus. This means that this type of cell might be particularly important in causing IAU, because it isn’t present in a disease that looks similar but has a different cause, and so treatments that target this cell type might be particularly effective in managing the disease.


Effect of hyperthyroidism on serum SDMA concentrations and the utility of SDMA as a marker of CKD in hyperthyroidism

Serum symmetrical dimethylarginine (SDMA) concentrations are reported to be a better test of kidney function in cats when compared with more traditional tests of kidney function, such as serum creatinine concentrations. We know that hyperthyroidism can influence the serum creatinine concentrations, which in turn makes the diagnosis of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in hyperthyroid cats more difficult. However, to date no study has reported the effect of hyperthyroidism itself on serum SDMA concentrations. This is important because hyperthyroidism and CKD are common co-morbidities in older cats. In human patients, thyroid dysfunction (both hyper- and hypothyroidism) can influence arginine metabolism (including SDMA). If hyperthyroidism affects serum SDMA concentrations, independent of the presence of concurrent CKD, this could lead to misdiagnosis of CKD in some hyperthyroid cats.

In addition, currently there is no reliable test of renal function in hyperthyroid cats available, because of the effects of hyperthyroidism on traditional markers like serum creatinine concentrations. Therefore, evaluation of serum SDMA concentrations as a marker of CKD in hyperthyroid cats is also warranted.

Masters' Degree by Research

Evaluation of the microenvironment and immune function in Histiocytic Sarcoma, a tumour of dendritic cells

To evaluate the relationship between tumour, microenvironment and immune system in canine histiocytic sarcoma, using flow cytometry, immunohistochemistry and mRNA expression analysis.

Specifically to:

1.  To explore the relationship between tumour (of dendritic cell origin) and regulatory T cells and the role of the latter in promoting immune-tolerance within the tumour milieu.
2. To explore the expression of tolerogenic immune mediators in histocytic sarcomas.
3. To establish and validate a panel of antibodies for flow cytometry to profile T cells in peripheral blood and samples from tumour and draining lymph node of affected dogs.
4. To examine T cell profiles (including T-regs) in the peripheral blood of dogs bearing histiocytic sarcoma by flow cytometry, to document changes in these profiles during the course of treatment and at relapse, and determine whether these correlate with prognosis.

The immune system has an important role in both the development and progression of cancer.  This can be a dual role, on the one hand the immune system can eradicate emerging malignant cells, but on the other it can promote the growth, invasion and metastasis of malignant cells.  In recent years the tumour microenvironment and the presence of infiltrating immune cells (T cells and macrophages) has become of increasing importance to our understanding of the relationship between cancer and the immune system. Of particular interest is the recognition of regulatory T cells within tumours that appear to down regulate the immune system and are associated with a poorer outcome in many human tumours.  These cells may offer a target for future cancer management strategies so their role in cancer progression is important to understand.

The flat-coated retriever (FCR) is one of the dog breeds at risk of developing histiocytic sarcoma (HS) and although the precise cellular origin of this tumour is unknown, the immunophenotype is suggestive of a myeloid dendritic antigen presenting cell (APC) lineage. We have previously shown that HS in FCR contain a prominent infiltrate of T cells 1, and recently that these were regulatory T cells phenotypically.  It is interesting that this prominent T cell infiltrate should be present in a tumour comprising cells that modulate the immune response, dendritic cells. It is known that dendritic cells play a pivotal role in determining immune-tolerance versus immunity. Thus a key step in better understanding the relationship between the tumour, its microenvironment and the immune system is essential to understanding how the tumour influences immune function. The finding that a significant proportion of tumour infiltrating T cells expressed FOXP3, suggesting them to be regulatory T cells, raises interesting questions of cause and effect which we aim to address in the proposed study


Neutering and Acquired Urinary Incontinence in the Bitch

An increased risk of acquired urinary incontinence due to sphincter mechanism incompetence in bitches has been attributed to timing of ovariohysterectomy (Holt 1987, Holt & Thrusfield 1993). Proposed mechanisms of action of acquired urinary incontinence include reduced levels of endogenous oestrogen, which may reduce tone in the urethral sphincter, increased gonadotropin levels, decreased gonadotropin or cyclooxygenase-2 receptor expression, decreased amounts of smooth muscle in the urethra and bladder, changes to collagen structure and shortening of the urethra (Gregory et al. 1992, Byron et al. 2007, Noël et al. 2010). However existing evidence is equivocal with limited response rates, losses to follow-up and small sample sizes being frequently seen. As such a recent systematic review, though identifying some evidence of an association between neutering per se and timing of neutering and development of incontinence, highlighted that the existing evidence was of moderate strength at best and further work was required to more fully address this important issue (Beauvais et al. 2012).

In a recent survey of UK veterinarians, urinary incontinence was the second most commonly stated disadvantage of neutering bitches (Diesel et al 2010). Work by O’Neill and colleagues (2014) estimated that approximately 1.7% of practice-attending dogs were diagnosed with urinary incontinence. While many affected bitches respond to oral therapy, this treatment generally has to be continued for life (Shiel et al. 2008). Furthermore, a recent study suggested that urinary incontinence in bitches was a cause of disharmony in 10-20% of affected households, with individual owners reporting feelings of anger and frustration (de Bleser et al, 2011). Hence, although the direct welfare impact may be considered minor for the affected animal, the potential impact on a large group of dogs, the owner-animal bond, as well as the perceived importance of the condition in the neutering decision-making process, in the context of evidence that needs strengthening, suggest further evaluation of the condition is merited. The aim of this study is to revisit this important topic, build on existing work and more completely evaluate the role of neutering and timing of neutering on the onset of the condition using a large existing primary practice database (VetCompass).


Variation in biological behaviour of canine cutaneous mast cell tumour: a study of prognostic variants between tumour grades in Labrador and Golden retrievers

Mast cell tumour (MCT) is a common tumour of the canine skin, and the second most frequently diagnosed canine malignancy (Dobson et al. 2002). Its prevalence in the UK dog population, across all breeds, is around 0.27% (Shoop et al. 2015), which is equivalent to 27,000 cases in the population at any given time. Several breeds, including the Labrador retriever and Golden retriever have an increased risk of developing cutaneous MCTs (Warland and Dobson 2013; Shoop et al. 2015). Despite advances in treatment, canine cutaneous MCTs are associated with substantial morbidity and mortality. They have variable behaviour, and histopathology is currently used to predict prognosis. The commonly employed Patnaik system categorises MCTs into grade I (well differentiated), II (intermediately differentiated) or III (poorly differentiated) tumours (Patnaik et al. 1984). Grade III tumours show aggressive behaviour with more than an 80% metastatic rate and they frequently cause death. Grade II tumours are the more frequently reported, and cause death in 17–56% of cases. Less than 10% of grade I MCT metastasise, and in general they carry a good prognosis. A more recently proposed Kiupel two tier system categorises cutaneous MCT as high or low-grade (Kiupel et al. 2011). However, inherent variability in histological grading of MCTs can make providing an accurate prognosis to clients problematic. 

Several recent studies have demonstrated a significant inherited susceptibility to cancers in dogs (Shearin et al. 2012; Karlsson et al. 2013; Tonomura et al. 2015). The presumed genetic risk factors for MCT are largely unknown, although somatic mutations in the proto-oncogene c-kit have been detected in some cases (Letard et al. 2008). Germline mutations in genes encoding for metabolism of hyaluronic acid have also recently been reported in affected Golden retrievers (Arendt et al. 2015), and a candidate genome region for MCT risk has been identified on chromosome 36 in Labrador retrievers (Hayward et al. 2016). The identification of multiple genome regions associated with MCT risk indicates it has a complex genetic basis.

To explore this complex genetic basis we have come together as a multi-disciplinary team of researchers with expertise in clinical oncology (Dr Nicholas Bexfield – University of Nottingham), clinical genetics (Dr Sarah Blott - University of Nottingham) and epigenetics (Dr Victoria James - University of Nottingham), leadership in bioinformatics (Professor Richard Emes - University of Nottingham Advanced Data Analysis Centre http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/adac/index.aspx), and extensive experience of histopathology (Dr Tim Scase – Bridge Pathology Ltd). The investigators have a strong proven track record performing high quality basic and clinical research. The team is focused on understanding how genetic variants confer MCT risk, and the interaction of genetic and environmental factors to modulate both germline risk and tumour behaviour. This project would form part of this overarching research area, building on data already generated by the group. The Scholar would therefore benefit from being part of an active multi-disciplinary team, undertaking a research project arising from a currently unmet clinical need.

Recently completed studies

Evaluation of urinary biomarkers for the early diagnosis of chronic kidney disease in cats 
Evaluation of urine albumin:creatinine ratio, urine cystatin C:creatinine ratio, urine protein:creatinine ratio and urine specific gravity as screening tests for azotaemic chronic kidney disease in cats.

Read the JSAP article 

Circulating concentrations of a marker of type I collagen metabolism are associated with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy mutation status in ragdoll cats 
Human carriers of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy associated sarcomeric mutations have abnormal collagen metabolism before overt left ventricular hypertrophy is detectable. This study investigated whether differences in collagen biomarkers were present in blood samples of ragdoll cats positive for the MYBPC3:R820W mutation compared with negative controls.

Read the JSAP article

Prevalence of pancreatic, hepatic and renal microscopic lesions in post-mortem samples from cavalier King Charles spaniels.
The objective of this study was to describe the prevalence of microscopic pancreatic, hepatic and renal lesions in post-mortem samples from cavalier King Charles spaniels.

Read the JSAP article

Antimicrobial-resistant Escherichia coli in hospitalised companion animals and their hospital environment
Antimicrobial resistance is a growing concern with implications for animal health. This study investigated the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance among commensal and environmental Escherichia coli isolated from animals sampled in referral hospitals in the UK.

Read the JSAP article

Nicotine hair concentrations in dogs exposed to environmental tobacco smoke: a pilot study
To investigate the association between dog hair nicotine concentration and owner-reported exposure to environmental tobacco smoke to establish whether dogs are exposed to significant, detectable amounts of environmental tobacco smoke in the home

Read the JSAP article

Clinical and pathological features of hair coat abnormalities in curly coated retrievers from UK and Sweden
To gain information on hair loss amongst curly coated retrievers by questionnaire and to define the clinical and pathological features of hair coat abnormalities in affected dogs in the United Kingdom and Sweden.

Read the JSAP article

Canine diabetes mellitus: from phenotype to genotype 
Breed differences in susceptibility to diabetes mellitus in dogs suggest an underlying genetic component to the pathogenesis of the disease. There is little evidence for an equivalent of human type 2 diabetes in dogs, and it has been proposed that canine diabetes is more comparable to the type 1 form of the disease. Certain immune response genes, particularly those encoding major histocompatibility complex molecules involved in antigen presentation, are important in determining susceptibility to human type 1 diabetes. We tested the hypothesis that canine major histocompatibility complex genes (known as the dog leucocyte antigen) are associated with diabetes in dogs. A total of 530 diabetic dogs and more than 1000 controls were typed for dog leucocyte antigen, and associations were found with three specific haplotypes. The DLA-DRB1*009/DQA1*001/DQB1*008 haplotype shows the strongest association with diabetes in the UK dog population. This haplotype is common in diabetes-prone breeds (Samoyed, cairn terrier and Tibetan terrier) but rare in diabetes-resistant breeds (boxer, German shepherd dog and golden retriever), which could explain differences in the prevalence of diabetes in these different breeds. There is evidence that the DLA-DQA1*001 allele is also associated with hypothyroidism, suggesting that this could represent a common susceptibility allele for canine immune-mediated endocrinopathies.

Read the JSAP article

Previous study topics

Below is a selection of the topics previous grant award winners have investigated.  All case studies are real, however some images have been used for illustrative purposes only.


I have been fortunate to have been associated with seven PetSavers research projects and the training of two PetSavers Residents over the past 23 years. My first grant was in 1991 for a study on the pathogenesis of anal furunculosis in the German Shepherd Dog. This study defined the pathology of the disease and demonstrated the role of T lymphocytes in the tissue lesions. This observation laid the groundwork for others to discover the remarkable clinical response of these cases to medical treatment with the T-cell inhibitory drug, ciclosporin. I generally consider this piece of research to have been my study with the most significant impact on clinical practice.

Some 12 years later, PetSavers provided further funding to allow us to explore the genetic basis of anal furunculosis in the German Shepherd Dog.  My other PetSavers projects have largely related to immunohaematology, including studies on canine and feline immune-mediated haemolytic anaemia, feline
blood groups and the characterisation of immunological changes that occur in canine idiopathic pericarditis.

The award in 1991 was one of my first as a newly appointed lecturer at the University of Bristol and I am delighted that PetSavers still provides this important small project funding, which is so crucial to veterinary researchers at the start of their career.

In 2014, we commerated the achievements of PetSavers at the 40th Anniversary celebration held during BSAVA Congress – and I know that PetSavers will continue to advance veterinary knowledge for the next 40 years.

Michael J. Day
University of Bristol BSAVA President 2013–2014

Dermatology and endocrinology


Over the years, I have received eight awards from PetSavers. The first was in 1980 for research into an alopecic condition in cats, then called ‘feline endocrine alopecia’ as is was suspected to have a hormonal basis, possibly hypothyroidism. This grant allowed me to confirm the main feline thyroid hormones as thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), as well as the effects  on their plasma concentration of age, gender, breed, heredity and environment.

Shortly after I started my PhD, the first cases of a truly new disease were seen in the USA and then very quickly in the UK and the Netherlands. This condition, feline hyperthyroidism, was to demand a large amount of my clinical and research time over the next 20 years.  With  subsequent  funding  from  PetSavers  for a number of projects between 1983 and 1993, we were able to further define the historical, physical and laboratory features of the disease, various aspects
of its medical management and some features of its aetiopathogenesis.

Skin disease associated with microorganisms is one of the most important areas in canine dermatology and, as such, has been well supported by PetSavers grants. When I began working in dermatology, Malassezia pachydermatis was not recognized as a canine pathogen. Nowadays, few dermatologists (and many general practitioners) would not go a working day without identifying its involvement in a dog with skin disease.

In addition, viruses and parasites have not been overlooked by PetSavers. One of the earliest grants, awarded in 1980, was to study the biology of the common ear mite of the dog and cat, Otodectes cynotis, and a few years later funds were provided for a study investigating the incidence, source and clinical features of feline cowpox.

Canine bacterial otitis externa is very common in veterinary practice, so it is no surprise that studies into this multifactorial condition have received support from PetSavers. In 2011, funding was provided for a study on the efficacy of topical antibacterial agents against Pseudomonas aeruginosa, whilst in 2012 a grant was awarded for research into the in vivo antimicrobial action of two ear-cleaning solutions.

Looking back at the awards that PetSavers have made in my specialist areas over the past 40 years, I find myself constantly impressed at the foresight and excellent judgement that the Awards Panels have consistently shown. PetSavers has a long and successful history and a fantastic future – here’s to the next 40 years.

Professor Emeritus Keith Thoday
University of Edinburgh

Anaesthesia and analgesia

PetSavers has been instrumental in developing companion animal anaesthesia and analgesia, through the funding of numerous and diverse projects. Many  of the studies have been based on work previously performed in human medicine, and have led to the development of drugs now widely used in veterinary practice (e.g. one of the most frequently prescribed analgesic agents for acute pain in dogs, cats and rabbits is buprenorphine, a drug whose initial characterization in the dog was facilitated by a PetSavers grant).

Other projects have emphasized that not all techniques that work well in humans are necessarily as effective in animals. For instance, although the use of topical morphine to relieve eye pain is widely accepted in humans, a PetSavers study demonstrated that it did not appear to provide pain relief in dogs and cats with corneal ulceration. Whilst this may seem like a ‘negative’ result, it highlighted to vets that alternative methods of analgesia were required. Ongoing PetSavers studies in this area include the use of computer technology to deliver specific blood concentrations of sedatives in dogs, with a view to developing safer sedation techniques.

In addition, PetSavers also provide funding for residency positions in veterinary anaesthesia and analgesia – two of these programmes have now been completed and have generated two Diplomate (specialist) anaesthetists. The third residency position is currently ongoing and is based in my department, so I have particular reason to be grateful for the funding PetSavers provides for these posts.

Professor Derek Flaherty
University of Glasgow

Ear disease

Antibiotic resistance has become a very real problem for veterinary surgeons in both primary care and referral practice. The treatment of ear disease has become  especially  challenging  with  the  emergence of increasing numbers of multiply-resistant  pathogens, such as meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus pseudintermedius (MRSP), Pseudomonas and Enterococcus faecalis. Whilst the management of otitis involves much more than purely treating the infection, without the ability to treat the infection, other measures become irrelevant.

However, with the new guidelines on antibiotic usage (which urge caution and justification when using such medications), the drugs previously used to treat these infections are now being prescribed less frequently. This means that alternative treatments need to be sought. The objective of our PetSavers funded project was to look at the activity of a range of different antibacterial agents in patients in our clinic.

Our aim was to assess the ability of different ear cleaners to treat both routinely identified bacterial and yeast infections, as well as the more resistant pathogens often seen in chronic otitis cases in the presence of purulent exudate, mucus and wax.

What has been interesting and exciting about our study is that it has provided us with essential information about the potential use of antiseptics in the treatment of cases of otitis externa in the dog. The results have motivated us to go on to look at other topical products, to help provide clinicians with more therapeutic options.

Sue Paterson
Rutland House Referrals, St Helens

Cancer research


Cancer is an important disease in dogs and cats, estimated to affect as many as one in four dogs. Over the past 25 years, advances in veterinary medicine (particularly diagnostic imaging, cytology and immunohistochemistry) have resulted in an increase in the rate of cancer diagnosis in companion animals. This, coupled with a change in approach and attitude to the treatment of cancer in dogs and cats by both the veterinary profession and the pet-owning public, has led to veterinary oncology becoming an important discipline within small animal medicine.

With an ever-increasing demand for oncological expertise in advisory, referral, teaching and research capacities, the need for postgraduate education to specialist level has arisen. PetSavers recognized this need and has supported the development of veterinary oncology in the UK and Europe by funding four successive senior clinical training scholarships, based at the University of Cambridge.

These scholarships have proved very successful, not only in terms of training present-day oncology specialists (now based at the University of Glasgow, the University of Liverpool and the Royal Veterinary College) but also clinical research output. Thus, through funding  these  scholarship  programmes,  PetSavers has helped support advances in the diagnosis, management and prognosis of canine leukaemias, lymphomas, mammary gland tumours, nasal tumours, oral melanomas and mast cell tumours, as well as the development of topical photodynamic therapy for the treatment of feline nasal planum carcinomas.

Dr Jane Dobson
University of Cambridge


Rabbit medicine

In 2004, PetSavers funded the first scholarship post dedicated to rabbit medicine and surgery. The three year position increased vets understanding of this popular pet.


Josh suffered from diabetes before developing kidney failure and hyperthyroidism. PetSavers have funded studies into the best ways of managing these conditions.

Bladder stones

Skipper, a miniature schnauzer, suffered with bladder stones. The cause of the stones was not known until we funded clinical studies that helped to identify the problem. Skipper is now doing well and is a much happier little dog.

Feline senility

Much-loved cat Cardhu showed signs of senility which prompted his owner Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore to investigate changes in the brains of older cats.

Ticks in captive birds

PetSavers funding has enabled identification of the tick that transmits disease in captive birds such as the peregrine falcon.


Marcus caught infectious hepatitis just before he was fully vaccinated. PetSavers funds the training of specialist vets so that such ill patients will have the best possible chance of recovery.

Canine diabetes

PetSavers has funded veterinary studies that aim to improve the management of diabetes in dogs such as Libby. The studies' findings will allow ill patients to spend less time in hospital and more time at home.

Auto-immune blood disease

PetSavers has funded a project to improve testing for auto-immune blood diseases in cats.


Megan became seriously ill with a lungworm infection known as Angiostrongylosis. She was diagnosed promptly and made a full recovery thanks to PetSavers.

Worms in rescue pets

PetSavers investigated the high incidence of worms in pets kept at rescue centres. Its findings are expected to improve the wellbeing of dogs such as Millie.

Pancreatic disease

Cavalier King Charles spaniels, such as Chloe, can suffer from painful inflammation of the pancreas. A PetSavers project helped to increase the understanding of the disease.

Canine middle ear disease

PetSavers is helping to make the diagnosis of middle ear disease in dogs easier, more reliable and more affordable for all.

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