Our vets and scientists work together to help millions of horses, dogs and cats in the UK and across the world.
We are developing new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines, and also providing surveillance, prevention and management advice, for a number of different diseases and injuries, but there is so much to do and that is why we need your help.
Below you will find just a snapshot of the various diseases and injuries we are tackling in 2017, and going forward. Make a donation today to help us help thousands more animals, or find out more about other ways to get involved here.
Dogs are affected by a wide range of blinding conditions, many of which are inherited and/or difficult to treat. Over the last ten years our veterinary ophthalmologists have worked closely with our geneticists to make huge steps in understanding the genetics of many blinding conditions, including progressive retinal atrophy, cone-rod dystrophy, hereditary cataracts and glaucoma in multiple breeds.
By working in a triangle with dog breeders, vets and scientists, we’ve been able to develop several DNA tests which are helping to reduce the prevalence of – and in some cases even eradicate – these blinding diseases in certain dog breeds. Because of this, many future generations of dogs will not suffer from blinding, and often painful, conditions and will live healthier and happier lives.
The availability of DNA tests can also help those individual dogs that are unfortunately found to be genetically affected for some conditions. When it is known that a dog will eventually suffer from an inherited disease in later life, early and frequent monitoring can be performed so that therapy can be initiated in a timely manner with the aim of prolonging sight and preventing pain for as long as possible.
Another way our scientists are tackling eye diseases is through investigating the possibility of new treatment therapies using stem cells. Stem cells have the remarkable ability to turn into other, specialised cells in the body and work is currently underway in the lab to investigate the possibility of using stem cells to better understand, prevent and – possibly – treat corneal dystrophy; a condition which leads to reoccurring ulceration of the cornea, affecting several breeds.
For more information, go to: www.aht.org.uk/giftofsight
Research at the AHT has a direct impact on the advancement of our knowledge both at the Equine Centre and throughout the veterinary profession. Our clinical research team’s number one priority is that any research is applicable to real life, so their findings provide scientific solutions to sport, performance, racing and pleasure horse problems. This research enables us to offer clients and referring vets state-of-the-art diagnostic tools, the most effective treatments and preventative health care advice, ensuring the best for horse health now and to stop them becoming ill or injured in the future.
Most recently we have released our findings on arena surfaces, specifically their composition and type of maintenance, which consequently affects how the horse moves. With competitions taking place on a variety of surfaces, it is really important for owners and trainers to understand the different risk factors involved with working their horses on different types of surfaces.
In another study, data collection has just finished for a study into the use of water treadmills for horses recovering from injury or to improve their fitness. Water treadmills are a growing trend amongst rehabilitation centres and are a popular choice for owners – however, there is currently no scientific evidence to prove if they work. Our study aims to identify how and why they are used, to then be able to provide some standard protocols for getting the best out of them, depending on what your horse needs.
Exciting projects currently in progress include discovering how vets and owners may be able to identify pain from horse’s facial expressions, and how effective scintigraphy can be at identifying injuries in sports horses. We are very proud of our team’s tireless efforts to improve veterinary knowledge through vital research for better prevention, diagnosis and treatment of injury and disease in all horses.
The AHT is fighting cancer in horses, dogs and cats through multiple research projects which aim to improve the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of cancer in these animals. This research takes two approaches, in the clinic and in the lab, combining the AHT’s veterinary and scientific expertise to help the maximum number of animals.
From the clinic, our vets take time to observe what’s working best for our patients in order to constantly refine and improve treatments and early diagnosis. By writing peer-reviewed papers and lecturing internationally on the best practises, findings from their experience treating animals with cancer are shared with the veterinary profession to contribute towards improving the diagnosis and treatment of cancer, all around the world.
In the lab, we have a team of molecular geneticists who study tumours and blood samples from animals with cancer to better understand why only some tumours spread or respond to treatment, and to find ways of detecting tumours, or tumour spread, earlier.
The aim is to develop improved diagnostic and prognostic tests that will help vets to treat animals with cancer sooner, and more accurately determine the best treatment options for their patients. Our scientists are also trying to identify inherited genetic risk factors for certain cancers that are carried by some pedigree dog breeds to improve understanding of how these cancers develop, and potentially reduce the number of dogs that are affected.
At the AHT we run a surveillance scheme for equine influenza where we are able to offer free testing for the virus, with funding from the Horserace Betting Levy Board. Flu may not sound particularly serious compared to other infectious disease, but flu can bring the equine industry to a standstill if an outbreak occurs. The racing industry knows this only too well from their own experience of an outbreak amongst thoroughbreds, preventing any movement of racehorses around the country, cancelling racing meetings, and therefore costing the industry a fortune.
We use the samples that are submitted by vets registered to the scheme to find out where and how frequently outbreaks of flu are occurring in the UK. Our Virology department also monitor how the virus is changing over time compared to current vaccine strains. Together with surveillance data from around the world, this information is used to recommend suitable strains to be included in new vaccines.
In the last two years there have been 52 recorded outbreaks of equine influenza in the UK, however this may just be the tip of the iceberg and the actual number of outbreaks may be much higher. We alert vets and owners of any outbreaks we do get samples from, to help reduce the risk of the infection spreading any further.
If you would like to find out more about equine influenza, and to tell your vet about our surveillance scheme, please visit www.equiflunet.org.uk
How the AHT is researching epilepsy:
Epilepsy is an extremely broad disease. Some animals’ epilepsy is manageable with medication whereas idiopathic epilepsy (of no known cause) or drug-resistant epilepsy can be much more complex and difficult to diagnose and treat, which can be distressing for both the owner and the animal. Our expert neurologists specialise in epilepsy and publish widely on its diagnosis, the medications available to treat it and how these can be best applied to get the right outcome for cats and dogs affected by epilepsy, which is a common neurological disease in these animals.
As part of the International Veterinary Epilepsy Task Force, our Head of Neurology, Dr Luisa De Risio, has helped to push epilepsy research forward by contributing towards the standardisation of epilepsy definitions and treatment guidelines, as well as a detailed framework for future epilepsy research and trials. This will help pet owners and vets communicate more effectively about epilepsy to continue to improve its diagnosis, treatment and the quality of epilepsy research moving forward.
Another aspect of our epilepsy research is to investigate the genetic basis of the disease in breeds of dog where epilepsy is prevalent, and/or drug-resistant. Epilepsy is a highly complex condition, so unravelling its genetic basis is a challenging prospect for our geneticists, who work closely with our veterinary neurologists to ensure our research projects are designed effectively. It’s also very important that we gather as much information about affected dogs as possible before we analyse their DNA, so we ensure a veterinary neurologist examines these dogs, or at least reviews their veterinary records, to ensure their diagnosis is correct and they are categorised correctly before they are included in the research.
Currently little is known about the underlying mechanisms causing the disease – in dogs or in humans – so anything we learn about the role of genetics would be a great achievement, with the potential of helping to improve epilepsy treatment. For example, our research could identify genetic variants which cause dogs to be non-responsive to epilepsy medication. If a DNA test could be developed to detect these variants this would aid diagnosis and help to shape breeding decisions. We hope that this research will help combat and treat this devastating disease for future generations of dogs.
Click here find out more about the breeds we’re researching epilepsy in, and how your dog could help this research.
Strangles, caused by the bacterium Streptococcus equi (S. equi), is the most frequently diagnosed infectious diseases of horses world-wide. Strangles is a terrible disease, with infected horses suffering with fever, loss of appetite, depression, coughing, thick nasal discharge and pain, and swollen abscess forming in the lymph nodes under the jaw and in the throat region.
Our Strangles research at the AHT has investigated the development of the causative bacteria through studying its DNA. We have shown that the current strains of S. equi date back to the 19th or early 20th century. This period relates to a time when horses were a major mode of transport and played important roles in a number of global conflicts, such as World War I. The mixing of these horses provided ideal conditions for the emergence and spread of the fittest strain of S. equi, from which today’s global population has emerged.
We have used this information to develop more sensitive diagnostic tests that detect the bug’s DNA or antibodies, produced by horses exposed to the Strangles bug. These tests are being used around the world to prevent Strangles, most recently clearing Strangles from over 2,000 horses in Australia!
We are also working towards developing new vaccines to prevent Strangles. There are over 600 outbreaks per year in the UK alone, with many thousands of horses affected. Over time we hope to be able to protect horses from Strangles in the same manner that horses are protected from flu today, and we are working tirelessly towards this goal.
Animals with a predominantly white coat are more prone to deafness. It’s important to check the hearing of these dogs and cats at a young age to see if they have been born deaf in one or both ears. This will help to make sure the deaf puppy or kitten is found a suitable home where they can get the extra care and attention they will need. For many the affected breeds, it is also useful to be sure of an animals’s hearing status before it is considered for breeding to help avoid more animals being born deaf.
The AHT was the first veterinary centre in the UK to offer brain auditory evoked response (BAER) hearing tests as a screening test for at-risk breeds of dog, such as Dalmatians and Border Collies. Since 1992, more than 18,000 puppies have had a BAER hearing test at the AHT and it remains one of our most popular health tests today.
BAER hearing tests are also available for cats, and were first offered at the AHT in 2003. The AHT is currently researching the prevalence of deafness in five breeds of cats: British Shorthair, Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest, Russian and Turkish Vankedisi kittens. To aid this research, free testing is available to litters of these breeds where one kitten is completely white. In most cases this test can be performed without sedation.
More information on how to book a test is available here.
Tendon injuries present as one of the most common orthopaedic injuries in human and equine athletes. Tendon injuries are common in racing and sport horses and can result in a shortened career, or even end a horse’s career. The long recuperation periods required following a tendon injury and the high re-injury risk, as these injuries heal through the formation of scar tissue, present an important welfare and economic issue for the equine industry.
Stem cells have the ability to self-renew to generate more stem cells and amazingly, even turn into other types of cells. Using stem cells to treat these injuries may help to bring about normal tendon regeneration and therefore reduce the frequency of re-injury. Our research aims to understand the mechanisms by which different types of stem cells work, so that we can produce the best possible therapy for horses.
Led by Dr Debbie Guest, this is an exciting area of research at the AHT as researching and developing alternative cell-based therapies could be of great benefit to both horse health and the equine industry
Equine Herpes Virus in horses is a particularly devastating disease which can cause respiratory disease, abortion or paralysis.
Horses and ponies can be infected by a number of different herpesviruses, the most important of which are equine herpesvirus type 1 and type 4 (EHV-1 and EHV-4). EHV-1 can cause respiratory disease, abortion and neurological disease and is the most economically important herpesvirus to infect horses because of its adverse effects on the horse breeding industry. EHV-4 mainly causes respiratory disease, but has been associated with abortion on rare occasions.
Currently, there are no commercially available vaccines that protect against the more serious forms of the disease. The Animal Health Trust has an ongoing EHV-1 research program, which is studying both the genetics of EHV-1 viruses and how EHV-1-infected blood cells interact with blood vessels, a mechanism responsible for the serious clinical signs in the horse. These studies will contribute to designing better vaccines for the protection of horses and ponies in the future.
Scientists at the AHT are researching the genetic risk of fractures in horses to help improve horse health and welfare. The more we know about this, the more we can work with the equine industry to minimise the risk of fractures in Thoroughbred horses.
Fractures caused by bone overloading (as opposed to a direct trauma) are common in racing Thoroughbreds. The risk of fractures is affected by various environmental factors but work at the AHT has shown that there is also a genetic risk to fracture in Thoroughbreds. Researchers at the AHT are currently using stem cells from horses at high and low genetic risk of fracture to determine the biological mechanisms which are affected in high-risk horses, and to understand why these horses are predisposed to fracture.
In the future this will enable the design and application of management techniques to minimise the risk of fracture in horses.
Laminitis in horses – serious and debilitating, can lead to long-term lameness and changes in the foot.
In partnership with the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) and generously funded by World Horse Welfare, the AHT is taking a closer look at management factors which may contribute to the development or recurrence of laminitis within the British horse and pony population through the ‘Care About Laminitis’ project. Through modifying these contributing factors, we hope to be able to significantly reduce the impact of this welfare problem.
There’s a high chance horses diagnosed with equine grass sickness (EGS) will not recover, as most affected horses either die from it or have to be put to sleep.
Equine grass sickness is a debilitating disease affecting grazing horses, ponies and donkeys, which is almost always fatal. There is currently no known method for preventing EGS, but this is something the AHT is trying to change. In 2014 we launched a vaccine trial to try and protect horses and ponies against this devastating disease in the future.
The trial involves horses and ponies receiving either a course of the vaccine or an inactive placebo, as well as an annual booster. The vaccine trial has been extended to cover an additional high risk season in Spring/Summer 2017 and the results are expected in 2018.