Animal Health Trust Visit by Shelagh Walton

A number of Breed Club representatives were invited to the Animal Health Trust at Newmarket for a ‘behind the scenes visit’ recently. I went along as a representative of The Irish Red and White Setter Club of GB.

We met mid-morning at the Wooldridge Building which was named after Reginald Wooldridge who in 1942 had the vision to form the Veterinary Educational Trust which later became the Animal Health Trust. After coffee and biscuits we were welcomed by Hannah Wilcox, Trust Fundraising Manager, and Andrew Simmonds, Assistant Director of Fundraising , who spoke and gave us an overview of the work of the AHT. The main focus of the Trust is on clinical work, scientific research, disease prevention and education and they work with dogs, cats and horses.

After this we were split into three groups to tour the various facilities on site. Firstly my group was taken to see the Hydrotherapy Unit and Cancer Centre. We were able to see a young Staffie that had previously broken its back and pelvis using the treadmill in the hydrotherapy unit. The dog had been unable to walk but with regular hydrotherapy and carefully planned sessions using the aquatic treadmill it had gained the use of its limbs and was able to walk and coordinate them well. The equipment in the Cancer Centre was very impressive and broadly the same as is used for human medicine.
We then returned to the Wooldridge Building for a talk by Dr Mike Starkey, Head of Molecular Oncology, on the Cancer Research which is carried out by the AHT. This was very interesting as it gave us an insight into the success of radiotherapy treatment for cancer in dogs. Dr Starkey explained the various different cancers that affected different breeds of dogs and informed us of the ongoing research that was being carried out. He also told us about a new treatment for tumours in horses they were pioneering at the AHT which meant that they were able to target high doses of radiotherapy more precisely and more importantly it did not leave the horse radioactive once the treatment had been administered. This was particularly useful for tumours around the eye and has been found to be extremely successful.

A buffet lunch was then served. After we had eaten our fill we were then taken for a tour of the Equine Clinic. We learnt that they don’t just treat race horses but horses used for dressage, eventing and just for general hacking out. Horses from all over the country and the world are flown in for treatment.

Last February the British Horse Racing Authority made the decision to shut down all race meetings because of an outbreak of equine influenza in Cheshire. As the equine flu virus can spread rapidly and can mutate with time this means vaccine strains need to be updated regularly to ensure adequate protection. The AHT received and analysed a year’s worth of samples in just a few days. This prompt action enabled the spread of the virus to be contained and racing to go ahead again.

Our final tour was of the Small Animal Clinic. Many who have visited the AHT for eye testing will be familiar with this area which contains treatment rooms and operating theatres but there are also a number of kennels and areas where the dogs and cats are kept either as day patients or in-patients depending on the gravity of their condition.
After a short meeting back at the Wooldridge Building to conclude the day we all departed for the Rowley Mile Race Course. It was great fun watching the horses parading before each race and having a little bet on which would be the winner.
The day was most enjoyable and gave me a real insight into the work of the AHT. I feel that they do a great deal of excellent research which will be invaluable for our dogs. I urge you all to support them as much as you can, both financially and by providing samples where possible for DNA testing. I know I certainly will.