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 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.    


Currently we offer funding for three types of grants – a Masters Degree by Research, Clinical Research Projects, and Student Research Projects.

Clinical Research Project

These grants are available to qualified veterinary surgeons 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 of £1,000 for each veterinary school in the UK and one specifically for veterinary nurses. The purpose of this these award is to encourage the next generation of veterinary researchers.

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Masters 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 Grant Awards

The following projects have been authorised for funding in 2016


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.
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: Exploration of signalling pathways to unravel disease mechanisms that drive fibrosis and ventricular hypertrophy.
  • Resistance of canine Staphylococcus pseudintermedius to selected topical and systemic antimicrobials in the UK.

Student Research Projects

  • Erythropoietin in Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour Disease
  • Is primary tumour growth associated with a shift in tau protein status in the canine brain?
  • 3D Quantification and Characterisation of spinal cord dorsal horn neuronal population (lamine I to V) in Cavalier King Charles Spaniels with Syringomyelia.
  • Developing novel biocompatible and antimicrobial coatings for orthopaedic implants in dogs.
  • Immunohistochemical characterisation of feline idiopathic lymphocytic-plasmacytic anterior uveitis.
  • Effect of hyperthyroidism on serum SDMA concentrations and the utility of SDMA as a marker of CKD in hyperthyroidism


Masters Degree by Research

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


Current study topics

The following are a selection of topics that are currently being studied by PetSavers funded researchers:

  • Does paracetamol reduce peri-operative pain in dogs?
  • Nicotine hair concentration in cats exposed to environmental tobacco smoke or with gastrointestinal pathology on an abdominal ultrasound examination.
  • A prospective study of risk factors for feline gingivitis.



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 helped to identify the problem. Skipper is now doing well and is a much happier little dog.

Feline senility

Cardhu, a much loved cat with signs of senility prompted his owner Dr Danielle Gunn-Moore so 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. It's 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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