THE concept of test tube puppies is unlikely to be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a hospital for pets.
But at the Croft Veterinary Hospital in Cramlington staff not only care for sick and injured animals and perform complex surgical procedures, they are also responsible for ensuring the health of the next generation of waggy-tailed pups.
I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of hours last week at the region’s biggest A&E and referral hospital – founded by husband and wife team and veterinary surgeons Malcolm Ness and Judith Joyce.
I was shown the hospital’s facilities including the state-of-the-art CT scanner and X-ray equipment and human-standard operating theatre, where surgeons were busy carrying out a hip replacement on a dog – a procedure the hospital does around a hundred of each year.
Not only did I see animals being prepared for treatment, a cat recovering from cancer surgery and a dog being kept in the isolatoon ward due to suffering from MRSA.
I also learned that the hospital has one of the few assisted breeding programmes for dogs in the world.
The programme was started by Croft veterinary surgeon Louise McLean a few years ago and works with breeders to improve the genetics of their dogs.
Malcolm said: “What is a problem with dog breeders generally is that even with some of the most popular breeds, their gene pool is actually quite shallow and it can become very difficult to get good quality dogs without effectively inbreeding to some extent.
“If you take for example Labrador retrievers – there is a reasonable number of Labradors but they all tend to be bred with fairly local dogs so there is quite a lot of inbreeding.
“One of the things our assisted reproduction does is it allows us to import semen from a dog population in America or Australia and use that to breed with a bitch in this country, so you get much more genetic diversity with healthier puppies as a result.
“And if you look at some of the less numerous breeds, they can really struggle to find enough males and females to breed and produce the next generation.
“By importing semen, and exporting semen from dogs in this country, we can ensure that the genetic mix is as good as possible and we can retain these breeds and retain the health of these breeds.”
Malcolm is one of just two specialist surgeons in the north east, with the second – Jonathan Bell – also based at Croft, while Judith specialises in dermatology.
The hospital also boasts an opthamologist, a behaviourist, a physiotherapist and specialists in internal medicine.
Malcolm added: “We are unique to have that breadth and depth in the region and we are available twentyfour-seven, there is always at least one vet and one nurse ready and waiting with a backup team of specialist surgeons and that really sets us apart from all the other practices in the region.”
Croft also has a network of 12 veterinary practices across the region.