ANIMAL HEALTH TRUST – HELPING YOUR PETS ENJOY BETTER HEALTH
By Ann Evans
Photos courtesy of Rob Tysall, Tysall’s Photography and the AHT.
For more than 70 years the Animal Health Trust (AHT) based in Newmarket, Suffolk has been dedicated to improving the health and welfare of dogs, cats and horses.
Her Majesty the Queen has been the charity’s Patron since 1959 while The Princess Royal became interested in their work ever since visiting when she was 19 years old. She became President of the AHT in 1991.
The charity has a team of 200 veterinary surgeons, nurses, scientists and geneticists many of whom are world leaders in their field. Together they collaborate to research animal diseases and injuries, the results of which are shared globally in order that animals everywhere can benefit. The Trust is also accredited to assess degree students and they also do ‘in house’ training which includes training people from overseas so that they have the skills to help animals in their own countries.
Their Small Animal Centre is a referral clinic for dogs and cats, and there’s an equine referral clinic for horses. They offer diagnostic laboratory services to vets and DNA testing to assist dog breeders. The Small Animal Centre specialises in certain disciplines: ophthalmology, neurology, surgery, oncology, canine and feline internal medicine, anaesthesiology, diagnostic imaging and dermatology.
Their successes and veterinary breakthroughs are countless, covering all aspects of ailments from successfully developing vaccines including the vaccine for canine distemper and equine influenza, to pioneering work with deafness, blindness, epilepsy, metabolic diseases, genetic tests, cancer treatments, advanced methods of cataract surgery, and specialist treatment of brain and spinal disease, to name just a few.
With no Government funding to support them, they achieve all this simply through their own good housekeeping and the generosity of the general public. On average the Trust treats around 4,000 dogs and cats each year, all of whom are referred by their own vets to the AHT. However, on occasions they have been called upon to treat the more unusual such as a sea lion, a tiger and tiger cub, a leopard, an albino wallaby and a chimp.
The Lanwades site where the Trust is based is set within 126 acres of beautiful pastureland where you’ll find resident horses grazing and local people often popping in for their lunch at the coffee shop which is open weekdays all the year round. The gardens and grounds are open from May to September.
Hospital facilities include one of the very few animal MRI units in the country, ultrasound, X-ray facilities, and equipment for neurological assessment. The AHT is one of only a handful of centres that can give radioiodine therapy for hyperthyroidism in cats.
There are three operating theatres in the Small Animal Centre all fully equipped with operating microscopes, excellent surgical instrumentation and anaesthetic monitoring equipment similar to that used by human hospitals. Intensive care facilities and fully-trained nurses including dedicated oncology nurses are there 24 hours a day and there is a veterinary surgeon on site at all times.
Within the Centre there are comfortable indoor kennels where animals recoup after surgery plus a nice quiet section for feline patients, and an isolation ward. There’s also a hydrotherapy pool which is ideal for helping many conditions such as a stroke, obesity, arthritis and for building up supporting muscles pre and post surgery.
In such a high-tech environment you’d be forgiven for thinking the atmosphere would be cold and clinical. The opposite is true. When I visited, I discovered a warm, friendly, personal feel which without a doubt helps dispel the fears of anxious owners bringing their pet in for treatment.
Taffy lost his left eye due to inherited glaucoma. An otherwise fit and healthy seven-year-old Golden Retriever, Taffy has always been an active gun and agility dog. But one evening he suddenly became unsettled and sensitive to light. The next day he was diagnosed with glaucoma.
Taffy was immediately referred to the Animal Health Trust to see an expert ophthalmologist, James Oliver. James performed a full eye examination, including gonioscopy, which confirmed that Taffy had acute glaucoma in his left eye. The gonioscopy also showed that Taffy had an inherited abnormality of the eyes called goniodysgenesis, a prerequisite for primary glaucoma, which indicated that the glaucoma was therefore inherited and not the result of an injury, infection or tumour. Because of this, Taffy is also at risk of developing glaucoma in his right eye, and becoming completely blind.
When treating Taffy James Oliver tried everything he could to save his eye. However, as is common in most glaucoma cases James sees at the AHT, the glaucoma proved unresponsive to treatment and so the decision was taken to relieve Taffy of his pain and remove the now blind eye. Glaucoma strikes extremely quickly. Taffy had the surgery and returned home just a few days after being diagnosed with glaucoma.
Barbra Warren, Taffy’s owner, spoke of her experience: “I had no idea that dogs could get glaucoma or that it was an inherited condition in Golden Retrievers. Taffy is of a very high pedigree and an excellent dog. I went through all the normal checks with him for hip and elbow dysplasia but something like glaucoma never crossed my mind. So it was a shock when the vet told me Taffy had glaucoma.
“Naturally I was quite worried at the thought of Taffy losing the eye but James Oliver assured me that Taffy could live just as happy a life with one eye, and he is. The few days he was in pain from the glaucoma he was like a different dog –he wasn’t wagging his tail any more, which normally never stays still – and he just seemed so miserable. But immediately after having the operation his tail was wagging again and he looked so relieved. I knew I’d done the right thing.
“I am concerned that there is a high risk that Taffy will get glaucoma in his other eye, and then he will be completely blind, but I try not to think about that too much and hope he has his sight for as long as possible. He’s such an intelligent dog, and has even won an agility competition at my local dog training club since losing the eye! I’m really pleased to know that the Animal Health Trust is trying to do something about this and that one day there might be hope that fewer dogs will suffer from glaucoma like Taffy has.
“I would urge anyone concerned about glaucoma in their dog to find out how they can help with the AHT’s research as they need as many samples as possible from healthy and affected dogs in order to try and develop a DNA test.”
GIFT OF SIGHT
Every year around 1,500 dogs in the UK lose their sight due to canine glaucoma. Most of them have to have their eye (or eyes) removed. Glaucoma in dogs can develop very suddenly. In most cases, medical treatment is unsuccessful and the dog will need to have his or her eye removed within just a few days of showing signs of the disease. Most dogs diagnosed with primary glaucoma will develop glaucoma in both eyes within the year of diagnosis.
The Animal Health Trust are striving to find new ways to prevent dogs being affected with primary glaucoma by understanding more about the disease and the genetics involved.
With generous funding from Dogs Trust, they have been able to start a research project specifically investigating why dogs suffer from glaucoma. With more help from the general public they hope to find answers as soon as possible and give more dogs the precious gift of sight.
SUPPORT THE ANIMAL HEALTH TRUST
The Animal Health Trust receives no Government funding and relies greatly on the generosity of the public to enable them to continue the work they do. There are many ways that you can help: Be a fundraiser; become a volunteer; become a Friend; Become a Fellow; take on a challenge; run the London Marathon; attend an AHT events; leave a legacy; become a Guardian; visit the Visitors’ Centre and coffee shop and in summer, the Landwades park and gardens.
For more information please visit: www.aht.org.uk