Monday 4th Dec 2023



Professor Keith Thoday
The University of Edinburgh
Division of Veterinary Clinical Sciences, Dermatology Group
The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies

One knows that one has become a senior member of a specialism (otherwise known as long in the tooth), not when one is made a Professor but when one is asked to write the history of any group to which one belongs. However, as one of its founder members, the British Veterinary Dermatology Study Group (BVDSG) has always been very near to my heart and it was a pleasure for me to accept the invitation of its current President, Dr Ariane Neuber, so to do.

The BVDSG was formed in response to a letter from Dr Brian Bagnall and Michael Geary published in the Veterinary Record on 17 January 1976 (Bagnall and Geary, 1976). Brian had recently finished his PhD thesis on immune responses to ticks at the University of Sydney (Bagnall, 1975) and had begun working at the Animal Health Trust as its first clinical and research dermatologist; Mike had been House Physician at the Royal Veterinary College and was then working for Intervet. They wrote:

“Sir,-Further progress in veterinary dermatology as a specialist subject has prompted us to arrange a one-day meeting for all those interested in the study and treatment of animal skin disease. Members in private practice are particularly invited to attend and contribute to establishing a regular study group. As well as discussing plans for the future, a number of clinical items will be presented.

The meeting will be held on February 20, at the BVA headquarters, 7 Mansfield Street, W1, from 10.30 am to 3.30 pm. Programme details and registration forms may be obtained from either of the undersigned”.

Thus, from the very outset, it can be seen that it was intended to have an all inclusive group, with significant input from colleagues in practice.

The first meeting of the group was attended by over 55 participants, including Dr Arthur Rook of ‘Textbook of Dermatology’ fame. Dr Rook had dragged himself out of his influenza sickbed, so determined was he to attend the meeting, and had to present his paper seated as he was so unwell. Other notable presenters included LR (Tommy) Thomsett (Royal Veterinary College [RVC], London), Allan Wright (Bristol University Veterinary School), Dr Ian Lauder (Glasgow University Veterinary School) and Dr Ken Baker (University College, Dublin). Other people who presented papers and who have subsequently spent a lifetime in dermatology were Dr David Lloyd (then of the Hannah Research Institute, Ayr) and myself (then of a practice in Wembley, North London, doing general practice and referral dermatology). I spoke on Trixacarus (Caviacoptes) caviae which I had recently identified in British pet guinea-pigs. I remember that I was both honoured and extremely nervous to be speaking in such distinguished company!

An organising committee of five was elected: Brian Bagnall (Honorary Secretary) and Committee Members Mike Geary, Raymond Hopes (Newmarket), David Lloyd and I. It was decided that the initial membership fee would be £3 per annum. Considering that the current fee is only £30, 33 years of inflation do not seem to have been much of a problem for members. Thus began the BVDSG.

Members of the BVDSG should be very proud of its beginnings and the foresight of its original organisers, and Brian and Mike in particular. The group was the first specialist dermatology interest association outside the USA and preceded the formation of the French Groupe d’Etude en Dermatologie des Animaux de Compagnies (GEDAC), a section of the French Small Animal Veterinary Association and the first meeting of the German veterinary dermatology organisation, the Freundeskreis Hautkrankheiten Interessierter Tierärtzte (subsequently Arbeitskreis Veteriär Dermatologie) (first meeting held on October 12 1982) by five and six years respectively and that of the European Society of Veterinary Dermatology (ESVD) (first meeting held on September 18 1984) by a full eight years. It is often forgotten that the UK in general, and the BVDSG in particular, led the way in European veterinary dermatology from the very start.

The proceedings of the meeting were published as the Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter Volume 1, number 1 (12 pages) in May 1976(a). It contained a report of the first meeting, abstracts of the presented papers, aims of the group, ideas for practice-based surveys in dermatology, an external meeting report, some dermatology literature abstracts (a feature we have in our Proceedings to this day) and notification of a sponsor: Vestric Ltd. would support the next meeting. The future direction and structure of the group was thus established and remains much the same to this day.

The second meeting of the group took place on 25 June 1976 at the Royal Society of Medicine, London and included our first three guest speakers: Paul Curtis of the Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge on photography of the skin, and internationally recognised mycologists, Peter Austwick, of the Nuffield Institute of Comparative Medicine, London on the clinical and laboratory diagnosis of fungal skin disease and Dr (now Professor) Rod Hay, then of the Institute of Dermatology, London on resistance to therapy in chronic dermatophyte infections. Throughout the BVDSG’s history, we have been extremely fortunate that world-renowned, non-veterinary speakers have been happy to give up their time to come and address us. In the proceedings of that meeting (Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter 1976b) was published the first suggestion for a BVDSG ‘research’ project: on skin testing allergens.

The BVDSG became peripatetic for its third meeting, held at the Leahurst campus of the Liverpool Veterinary School on 19 September 1976, which included an overnight stay. This meeting was also a joint one with the North West Region of the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), our first of now many liaisons with out national small animal association. It included a very entertaining and highly amusing (hard to believe, I know) talk on veterinary dermatology textbooks by Brian Bagnall. The organising committee had agreed to use the power and size of the group (we now had ‘nearly 70’ members) to carry out a nation wide (or as nation wide as 70 people could carry out), year long survey of ectoparasites in the UK, our second research project. The original committee members were re-elected for a further year for continuity. In the proceedings of that meeting, Brian wrote: ‘The arrangement is entirely informal and we have no constitution, rules or procedures’ (Bagnall, 1976). This arrangement was to continue serving us well for many years. Brian Bagnall had decided that the Animal Health Trust was no longer for him and he moved to Smith Kline and French Laboratories in Welwyn Garden City.

For our fourth meeting (4 February 1977), we moved again, this time to the Institute of Urology, London. Once again, we were extremely well supported by non-veterinary speakers: Dr David Goldin from Addenbrooke’s Hospital and Professor Malcolm Greaves from the Institute of Dermatology were just two who presented papers. It is interesting, however, to note how knowledge was only just beginning to accumulate on now well-known veterinary subjects: I spoke on two cases of Cheyletiella blakei infestation in cats and John Foster spoke on a case of canine Cushing’s disease. It is easy to be glib about the subjects of such presentations 32 years later but on such things was the development of our specialism based and, of course, the second edition of Muller and Kirk’s ‘Small Animal Dermatology’ had only just been published. The proceedings also contained a literature review of skin testing techniques in dogs (Thoday, 1977), the first report of the BVDSG’s first working party.

By the time of our fifth meeting on 3 June 1977, the group had over 100 members making us, at the time, one of the largest veterinary special interest groups in the UK. We also had almost no cash reserves and therefore a further £3 subscription was proposed for 1978. Mike Geary and Dr Peter Beresford-Jones (well known and well loved by all RVC graduates as ‘B-J’) presented the results of the ectoparasite survey (Geary, 1977). Printing techniques (or at least those available to a group that had almost no funds) were more basic then: Dr Theresa Frankel’s figures of essential fatty acid structures were reproduced from her presentation by copying her hand-drawn acetates complete with hand-written figure legends.

Our second weekend meeting was held at the RVC Field Station on 1-2 October 1977. I had managed to pull off a speaker coup: Professor John Ebling of the University of Sheffield, the accepted world expert on the relationship between sex hormones and the skin, had accepted my invitation to be our keynote speaker and joined us for the whole weekend. I even got him to be our after-dinner speaker on the Saturday evening at very short notice: I only asked him when he was eating his soup. Nevertheless, he made a great job of it, somehow bringing in the saucy seaside postcards of Donald McGill (there must be a sex hormone link there somewhere). I was elected to take over from Brian as Honorary Secretary and joining us on a slightly expanded committee were David Grant and Chris Chesney. Organising three meetings per year was not viable and we decided to reduce this (and subsequent Newsletter production) to two, the arrangement that has continued very successfully ever since. I had just been appointed to a lectureship in Edinburgh so there were big changes afoot for both the group and myself. I see that I asked for more submissions to the newsletter from the membership as ‘voluntary contributions continue to be rare’. I am sure that with that comment, I have the sympathies and understanding of many subsequent Newsletter/Proceedings editors. Nevertheless, it made 56 pages, the largest issue up to that date. The subsequent Proceedings also contained the final report of the working party on skin testing solutions in canine allergic disorders (Thoday, 1978).

There was a predictable fall in membership numbers when subscriptions were requested at the beginning of 1978 but 88 members renewed, allowing the BVDSG to continue to claim to be one of the largest special interest veterinary groups in the UK. In the proceedings of the next meeting, the membership list was published. Many people therein became important dermatological opinion leaders and others continue to attend meetings to this day. This Newsletter (1978b) contained the first request for clinical material. I was investigating immunoglobulin changes in cases of canine scabies and needed blood samples. It also reported on the previous meeting (May 5 1978) which was the first obviously themed one, on ‘Allergic skin conditions and their mechanisms’. Once again, we benefited from pure research and medical speakers including Dr Phillip Askenase from the National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London on ‘Basophils, mast cells and vasoactive amines in hypersensitivity reactions’ and Dr Stephen Burge from the Cardiothoracic Institute, London on ‘Atopy in man’, a subject we have revisited in many guises since. Dr Burge had been volunteered to speak to us by Professor Jack Pepys, author of very many immunological papers and tomes, when some members of the Working Party on skin testing solutions had been to see him for discussions during the course of their review.

The final meeting of 1978 was again held at the Institute of Urology (26 October), in conjunction with the Skin Club, with the theme of ‘Scaling dermatoses of man and animals’ Papers were presented on ‘An animal model for evaluating epidermal cytotoxic drugs (Dr Anthony Du Vivier, King’s College Hospital, London), ‘Recent advances in [human] atopic dermatitis’ (Professor Rona MacKie, University of Glasgow), and ‘Zinc and skin diseases’ (Dr Ian Bremner, Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen) together with papers by veterinary speakers. Brian Bagnall and Mike Geary gave notice that they would resign from the organising committee after almost three years. In being instrumental in setting up the Group, Brian and Mike had done an immense service to dermatology in the UK, Europe and indeed worldwide and in recognition, they were elected the Group’s first Honorary Life Members. The membership was steady at between 90 and 100, with between one-third and one-half of members attending each meeting, excellent figures considering the geographical distribution of the membership. The Honorary Treasurer, Chris Chesney, reported a positive bank balance of £325. David Grant became Newsletter editor and Tommy Thomsett and Martin Edmonds were elected to the two vacant positions on the Organising Committee (Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter, 1979).

Throughout the next two years, twice yearly themed meetings continued. We covered ‘Skin neoplasms and their treatment’, ‘Skin immunity’, Antimicrobial therapy and ‘Nutrition and the skin’. As had become the custom, I resigned as Honorary Secretary after two years (October 1979) and was replaced by David Lloyd. David Grant became Newsletter editor. As DIG was moving south from Edinburgh where we had been working together at the Edinburgh School, it was agreed to co-opt another member from Scotland: Dr David MacEwan Jenkinson (Hannah Research Institute, Ayr) filled the vacancy.

In 1981, the group celebrated its quinquennial anniversary. In the Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter of March 1981, David Grant, summed up the Group’s achievements, told us that we now had 129 members in various parts of the world, expressed the Group’s thanks to the Wellcome Foundation, Smith Kline and French and Intervet Laboratories for help with production of the Newsletter and amazed us that the subscription for that year would remain at £3!

As one flicks through the BVDSG Newsletters, one cannot fail to be impressed by the dermatological milestones that one passes. For example, in the September 1981 volume of the Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter, Mike Geary reviewed the newly introduced, anti-demodex ‘wonder drug’ amitraz and reported on a trial of its use in 50 cases. Almost 30 years on, amitraz is still the drug of choice for many of us when confronted with a case of canine demodicosis.

In 1982, the BVDSG decided to make a research award of £300 available on a ‘semi-annual’ basis to stimulate research in our specialism. Mike Herrtage of the Cambridge Veterinary School joined the Organising Committee and the membership had now increased to 158. Always in the vanguard, the Group’s first meeting of the year was on bird, fish, reptile and amphibian skin, subjects that at the time one would have struggled to find much about in the literature.

In 1983, Tommy Thomsett became Secretary of the BVDSG and the membership almost hit 200. Two meetings that year dealt with immune-mediated and parasitic diseases and similar subjects have been repeated many times since. Meetings continued twice yearly until, in December 1987, the Tenth Anniversary Edition of the Newsletter was produced. There was a certain amount of poetic licence in this publication as the tenth anniversary had actually been the previous year! The Newsletter reminds us that it was at this time that the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) had requested specialist groups to hold pre-congress days, a feature that continues, with great success, to this day. BVDSG continued to be peripatetic: the September 1988 meeting was held in Edinburgh. Dermatology in Europe and worldwide really began to move at this time: in 1988, BVDSG joined with ESVD at BSAVA Congress and, the following year, the two groups organised a joint meeting at the 14th World Congress of the World Small Animal Veterinary association in Harrogate.

Another dermatological scientific milestone was passed at the meeting in April 1992: Dr Ken Mason gave a paper at the April meeting entitled ‘Seborrhoeic dermatitis – the aetiology rediscovered’. Ken had already published his work but it was the first time that most people in the UK had heard a paper describing his findings on Malassezia pachydermatis, information which we now use in our clinics most days we are consulting.

The April 1994 meeting report saw two other changes to the ‘Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter’, this time of title, to ‘BVDSG Proceedings’, as probably befitted a now sleek and glossy publication which was very much more the latter than the former and the addition of an International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) from the British Library. The Group also elected to produce a true newsletter, Derm News, three or four times yearly to keep the membership up-to-date with current dermatological happenings and items of news. Derm Newscontinues to be published, with its original aims which it continues to achieve.

Around October 1997, the sleek and glossy publication that was now BVDSG Proceedings began to publish some colour images, significantly improving its look and readability. BVDSG has had long and excellent relationships with industry and, indeed, we have had help in producing the Newsletter since the very first issue (the Wellcome Veterinary Division supplied its cardboard covers). We are very grateful to all the companies, too numerous to name, who have supported our publications and our meetings over the years.

By this stage, the current meetings schedule was well and truly bedded in: a day spring meeting immediately pre-BSAVA Congress and a two day meeting in the autumn, the latter meeting having moved around to find a venue that geographically suits the most members.

In autumn 2001, BVDSG celebrated its 25th anniversary. It had come a long way from its fairly humble beginnings and had, so we were told, a membership in excess of 300. In order to celebrate the occasion, Peter Forsythe, the thenBVDSG Proceedings editor, arranged for the original proceedings to be reproduced, courtesy of Leo Animal Health. The finished product was rather more glamorous than the original! We had a wonderful two day meeting in Chester on cutaneous oncology together with a celebration (wine reception and commemorative dinner) and were entertained to dermatological reminiscences by Tommy Thomsett and Ken Baker. A good time was had by all, both scientifically and socially!

And so the BVDSG went into its second 25 years. Since then, we have had themed meetings on avian dermatology, endocrine dermatoses, feline dermatology, dermatological diagnostics, ear disease, dermatological therapeutics, immune mediated diseases, small mammal dermatology, infectious dermatoses, behavioural dermatology, allergy, breed related dermatoses, dermatoses of the face and feet and alopecia. The 2009 autumn meeting will be on keratinisation. The Organising Committee has changed many times over the years, but the members always seem to come up with fascinating topics for our meetings.

The BVDSG is extremely well-regarded scientifically and this ensures that the top speakers, both national and international, accept invitations to address us on particular subjects. Past speakers to the Group look like a Who’s Who of all things dermatological. The BVDSG is very relevant to, and actively supported by, the practicing arm of the profession. We now have an attractive website ( Things look very good for the continued success of the BVDSG for many years to come.


Bagnall, B.G. (1975) Cutaneous immunity to the tick Ixodes holocyclus. PhD thesis, University of Sydney.
Bagnall, B.G. (1976) Editorial. Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter 1, (3) 1.
Bagnall, B.G. & Geary, M.R. (1976) Dermatology study group. Veterinary Record 98, 59 only.
Geary, M.R. (1977) Ectoparasite survey. Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter2, (2) 2-3.
Geary, M.R. (1981) Ectodex dog wash – A preliminary report. Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter (1981) 6, (2) 63-68.
Grant, D.I. (1981) The Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter – five years on.Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter 6, (1) 1.
Mason, K.V. (1992) Seborrhoeic dermatitis – the aetiology rediscovered.Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter 14, (1) 6 – 12.
Muller, G.H. & Kirk, R.W. (1976) Small Animal Dermatology, 2nd edn., 809 pages, W.B. Saunders, Philadelphia.
Thoday, K.L. (1977) The use of skin testing techniques for allergic disorders in the dog – a preliminary report from the investigating
working party of the British Veterinary Dermatology Study Group. Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter 2, (1) 16-21.
Thoday, K.L. (1978) The use of skin testing techniques for allergic disorders in the dog – a second report from the investigating working party of the British Veterinary Dermatology Study Group. Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter(1978) 3, (1) 52-53.
Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter (1976a) 1, (1) 1-13.
Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter (1976b) 1, (2) 1-21.
Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter (1978) 3, (2) 1-20.
Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter (1979) 4, (1) 1-29.
Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter (1987) Tenth anniversary edition, 11, (1 and 2) 1-32.
Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter (1989) Pre-Congress Dermatology Programme 30th March 1989. 1-19.
Veterinary Dermatology Newsletter (2001) Commerative issue, 1, (1) 1-14.

Edinburgh, August 2009