Some of the clinical and bioveterinary research conducted at the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) requires the participation of dogs. This research is critical to the development of safe and effective medicines and vaccines that benefit dogs globally and contributes to the understanding of diseases affecting animals. Scientific breakthroughs enabled by comparative and translational research in dogs sometimes have benefits for other species, including for human patients.

Canine diseases and conditions under investigation at the RVC include cancers, heart disease, neurological disorders (e.g. epilepsy), diabetes mellitus, inflammatory bowel disease, angiostrongylosis (lung worm) and canine infectious respiratory diseases. We are also doing work to learn how to measure and treat both neuropathic pain and nausea in dogs.

Many conditions dogs experience are very similar to equivalent problems faced by humans and other species and so the research undertaken in dogs can help in development of new treatments for other veterinary patients and for human patients. Such conditions include epilepsy and Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

The use of animals in experiments is regulated under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (ASPA). Much of the clinical research involving dogs is undertaken in pet dogs that are patients, alongside their routine diagnostic testing and treatment (e.g. use of residual blood samples, following completion of laboratory testing) undertaken under the Veterinary Surgeons Act, with approval from the RVC Clinical Research Ethical Review Board and with informed owner consent.

Some canine research conducted at the RVC takes place under Home Office licence granted under the directions of ASPA and with approval from the RVC Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Board. This allows us to take samples (usually blood or small tissue biopsies) from these dogs to advance our knowledge, or conduct investigations (e.g. MRI imaging of relevant body parts) without these being for the benefit of diagnosis and treatment of that specific animal (which is a requirement for procedures that are done under the Veterinary Surgeons Act), but for the benefit of other dogs and/or humans more widely in the future. In many of these cases the dog remains under the care of its owners and only visits RVC for sampling/imaging, or is hospitalised for a short period of time for these procedures to be conducted before returning to their owner, following a physical examination by a veterinary surgeon independent of the study. These study dogs are cared for in our hospitals under the same excellent care as clinical veterinary patients that are visiting for diagnostics and/or treatment.

In these cases owners give their informed consent for any research done on their pets. Some study dogs are recruited from outside of our hospital populations, while others are already with us receiving care for relevant condition(s); owners of dogs in this latter group can prefer not to be involved in these studies without this affecting the quality of care their pet receives. The majority of owners are enthusiastic in helping our researchers to improve the health and welfare of future generations of dogs and we are grateful for their support.

Whilst most dogs enrolled onto RVC research programmes continue to live with their owners as household pets, a small but important proportion of our research requires groups of dogs to be looked after at the RVC, under the conditions of ASPA for experimental studies. These include a family of dogs participating in research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy. These are bred and cared for by animal staff working for the College, with sampling/imaging often conducted by expert veterinary professionals in our hospital environments.  We spend a lot of time ensuring the welfare of each of these animals in our care and for example, ensure that they are played with, have companions and access to grass paddocks and outside runs. These animals receive the same food that pet dogs receive and are cared for by staff who love animals. 

Exceptional care of dogs used in research

As a leading provider of veterinary treatment, the RVC can deliver the highest quality care to any dogs participating in research programmes. If dogs are housed at the RVC throughout a research project then appropriate socialisation is provided during the process. Such dogs are often rehomed after participation, following a decision by the Named Veterinary Surgeon (who is responsible for the health and welfare of research animals) that it is in the dogs' best interests.

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