PetSavers was set up by the BSAVA (British Small Animal Veterinary Association) in 1974 under its original name of the Clinical Studies Trust Fund. The charity was founded by a group of vets who realised that there was a need for a charity that would fund studies into the many unsolved companion animal medical and surgical problems. Its mission was, “to fund vital clinical research into the prevention, treatment and/or cure of illnesses and conditions affecting pets, so that our companion animals can enjoy longer, fuller and healthier lives”.
The first grant of £1,225 was awarded to David Bennett, a postgraduate student at the University of Glasgow School of Veterinary Medicine, to investigate immune-mediated joint diseases in the dog and cat. David was able to develop the tests needed to characterise several different forms of autoimmune disease, based on samples of blood and joint fluid from affected animals. This included the first identification of a canine rheumatoid arthritis, which would prove to be a much rarer condition in dogs than in humans.
Developing the tests to allow an early diagnosis produced considerable welfare benefits as the animal’s pain could be greatly ameliorated through treatment with immunosuppressive drugs.
This one project produced 10 papers published in veterinary journals and laid the foundations for David’s PhD.
Geoff Skerritt was a young anatomy lecturer at Liverpool Veterinary School in 1980, when he received a grant worth around £2000 to purchase equipment and develop the techniques for electromyography (EMG) and electroencephalography examinations in companion animals.
Geoff was able to adapt equipment made for the human health market to measure nerve conduction in smaller patients. Geoff explains, “Thanks to the PetSavers grants, we use these techniques pretty routinely now as a diagnostic tool in neurology cases”.
One of the first conditions to be studied using EMG was progressive axonography in the boxer. This was a devastating inherited disease which caused great distress to the affected animals and their owners.
The first PetSavers' residency was awarded to J.S Morris at the University of Cambridge Veterinary School in Clinical Oncology.
Michael Day, who became BSAVA President in 2013-14, investigated the pathogenesis of anal furunculosis in the German Shepherd dog. This research identified the central role played by T lymphocytes in the aetiology of this condition and led other scientists to develop the ciclosporin-based therapy that transformed the management of this once common condition in the breed. Pedro Martin Bartolome, former PetSavers' committee Chair, comments: "I can remember when we used to have to treat these dogs surgically; it was a very messy and bloody treatment. Being able to offer an effective medical treatment has been one of the most important advances that our charity has helped to achieve".
The charity changed its name from the Clinical Studies Trust Fund to PetSavers.
PetSavers celebrated its 25th anniversary by awarding the PetSavers' Silver Jubilee PhD to Professor David Bennett for research into novel therapy for treating canine osteoarthritis.
In the late 1980s, rabbits were categorised with other exotic pet species and were dismissed as only being worthy of a single afternoon's lecture at many veterinary schools. However, during the 1990s, they gained popularity as companion animals, and in 2004 Professor Anna Meredith won funding from PetSavers for the first ever residency in rabbit medicine at a UK veterinary school. Michelle Ward, Anna's postgraduate student, carried out a study on the role of probiotics in maintaining the health of the rabbit. "This study did a great deal to raise the profile of rabbit medicine in the UK. It really started the process through which rabbits are now considered to be a mainstream companion animal rather than just another exotic pet," Anna recalls.
The first Masters Degree by Research was awarded to Dr Gina Pinchbeck to investigate the prevalence and risk factors for extended-spectrum beta-lactamase in companion animals.