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Our Foundation: Then and Now

You can learn a lot about about an organization by combing through its’ historical archives. We know that Morris Animal Foundation today is a global leader in funding animal health studies, but what was our role 66 years ago when we first began?

Interestingly, it was much the same. In 1948, Dr. Mark L. Morris, Sr. established the Foundation to meet a need for funding health studies solely to benefit animals. Although organizations that support animal health research have increased, Morris Animal Foundation remains one of the top sources of funding for veterinary and other animal health researchers.

What has evolved over time is what researchers are studying.  Reading through historical research project reports gives a sense of what questions were important to scientists and veterinarians during a particular time period: what knowledge gaps they wanted to fill and what biological system they wished to study. This exercise also puts into perspective just how far veterinary medicine has advanced since those early days. Here’s a look at what Morris Animal Foundation animal health researchers were studying through the years.


Dr. Morris was a pioneer in animal nutrition. Almost nothing was known about the topic back then. It makes sense that studies funded in the 1950s were almost exclusively focused on improving nutrition for cats and dogs. Morris Animal Foundation also funded its first equine-focused study, also in nutrition, at the end of this decade.


In the 1960s, researchers began focusing on answering other basic biological questions: What types of viruses infect cats? How does the canine reproductive system work? What factors are involved in the formation of bladder stones in dogs and cats? Equine-focused studies shifted to focus on infectious disease identification. The few wildlife studies funded in these early years were exclusively aimed at characterizing parasites in zoo animals.


The 1970s saw a shift in dog and cat research studies away from broad topics toward more targeted research. Popular topics included urinary tract and thyroid gland diseases. In horses, reproductive problems and orthopedic diseases replaced infectious diseases as areas of research interest. Infectious disease remained a popular topic for research in wildlife, although one study looking at a moose nutrition was funded!


In the early 1980s, small animal studies encompassed a wide range of diseases, but by the end of the decade, cancer-related research emerged as a hot topic. Small animal reproduction and nutrition studies virtually disappeared and were replaced by an interest in feline retrovirus biology (feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus). In horses, musculoskeletal system–focused studies were common, but research into newly discovered infectious agents and gastrointestinal diseases were also popular. During this time, the Foundation delved deep into wildlife, establishing the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project to provide in-field health care for these highly endangered animals in Africa.


The studies of the 1990s reflect the revolutionary change in molecular biology research that occurred early in the decade. Cancer studies had become the most commonly funded study type by decade’s end, and the need for pharmacologic studies increased, particularly in the area of pain management. In horses, orthopedic and gastrointestinal studies dominated, but the first studies of equine genetic diseases were also being funded. This decade also saw a dramatic increase in wildlife health study proposals, a trend that continues today. These studies placed a heavy emphasis on reproductive problems and infectious diseases in a large variety of captive and wild animals.

The 2000s to Now

Over the past 15 years, the Foundation has seen an explosion in the number of studies funded to understand the genetic basis of diseases in dogs, cats and horses. These studies have led to DNA tests that can help prevent heritable diseases through modified breeding practices and are also paving the way for individualized and more targeted therapeutics. Wildlife studies continue to expand and each year more important and endangered species are added to the list of those helped by Morris Animal Foundation. Meeting the need for training the next generation of scientists has also become a priority for the Foundation.

Animal health advances have moved quickly in the past decade as new technologies emerge, and Morris Animal Foundation is proud to remain a leader in filling knowledge gaps, training scientists and supporting the most cutting-edge research to benefit animals. We don’t know what the next hot topic will be, but we know we’ll be there to fund it.

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By: Kelly J. Diehl, DVM MS, DACVIM (SA Internal Medicine)

Categories: Veterinary news
August 6, 2014