Department of Equine and Small Animal Medicine

At the Department of Equine and Small Animal Medicine, Finland’s centenary was a busy and successful year in both teaching and research. The work conducted by the departmental staff received publicity also in the media and through tributes. In late 2017, a nostalgic send-off was organised for Professor Satu Sankari, as the department’s long-standing and well-liked head deservedly retired. At the event, Satu passed a “chair’s gavel” symbolising the leadership to the new director of department, Docent Merja Rantala.


Research at the department is focused on animal health and welfare, with clinical studies centred on the diagnostics and treatment practices of equine and small animal diseases, as well as welfare studies among various species. There are several research groups working at the department, including neuroPET, PETbone, sofTIS, Dogrisk, Alfa, CogniDog, Animal Mind, FIN-SAGAS, Lung Insight, Equine Research, as well as the research group in clinical microbiology. These groups work within a broad international and domestic multidisciplinary cooperation network, conducting active research that during the year resulted in no fewer than seven completed doctoral dissertations and several peer-reviewed scientific articles. The following doctoral students defended their dissertations in 2017: Helka Heikkilä, LVM; Hanna Dyggve, LVM; Kati Salla, LVM; Raija Hallamaa, LVM; Rachel Bennet, LVM; Thomas Grönthal, LVM; and Sanna Viitanen, LVM (for the topics, see Doctoral dissertations).

The research group led by Professor Outi Vainio is part of a consortium that received significant funding from Business Finland (previously the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation) for developing smart canine welfare technologies. The consortium is coordinated by the University of Tampere. Professor Thomas Spillman wrote a section on the aetiology and pathophysiology of pancreatis for the revised edition of a classic work in small animal internal medicine, the Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine: Textbook in Small Animal Medicine, known by the sobriquet “Ettinger” among all veterinarians.


Teaching at the department was implemented according to the curriculum. The teachers of the department are responsible for the practical instruction provided during the fifth year of studies at the University’s Small Animal and Equine Hospitals. Patient care and teaching conducted while treating patients comprise a significant part of the teachers’ working time. Teachers of the clinical department also teach students in their third and fourth years of studies.

Four bachelor’s degrees and 22 licentiate theses were approved. According to the students’ assessment, the department’s block teaching is good or very good overall. The development of teaching will continue, as the University of Helsinki awarded the department €50,000 in digital leap funding to develop a virtual patient.

Several courses with the overall scope of approximately 40 credits were organised as optional studies, one of which, organised under the framework of the Erasmus exchange programme, focused on avian diseases. The teaching was coordinated by Professor M. Krautwald-Junghanns from the University of Leipzig. The NOVA course, organised for postgraduate students, focused on imaging techniques for canine diseases. In addition to Finland, the course had teachers from Germany, Norway, Austria and Denmark.

Other news from the department

The department offers professional continuing and postgraduate education. Ten new specialist veterinarians graduated during the year. The department’s teachers and researchers also organised seminars for practising veterinarians. Departmental experts gave lectures at many domestic continuing education events and appeared in the media commenting on matters related to the field, with antimicrobial resistance receiving constant attention. Through the University’s website, the department’s researchers published press releases on research findings targeted at the general public. Among the Finnish-language releases, an article on multiresistant bacteria in imported dogs published by the clinical microbiology research group gained 4,318 views, making it the 20th most read news article by the University of Helsinki. As for English-language releases, the Empathetic people experience dogs’ expressions more strongly release by the Animal Mind group was read 6,436 times, an achievement worth the fourth place in the most-read list. This project was conducted jointly by researchers of the Deparment of Equine and Small Animal Medicine and Aalto University.

The department’s staff and researchers gained a wide variety of accolades: A presentation given by Merita Määttä, LVM, who is completing her doctoral dissertation in the research group led by Docent Minna Rajamäki, was awarded the prize for the best scientific presentation at the ECVIM-CA Congress, Malta. Professor Outi Vapaavuori received the Kannuspalkinto prize for teaching in small animal surgery from the Finnish Veterinary Students’ Association, while Professor Satu Sankari took part in writing an article that was chosen the best scientific article of 2017 in the Finnish Veterinary Journal. The Finnish Veterinary Association chose Docent Merja Rantala as the Veterinarian of the Year in recognition of her advocacy of the appropriate use of antibiotics and work in fighting antimicrobial resistance. For the department, Finland’s centenary ended on an exceptionally high note, as President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö made a decision to grant Professor Outi Vainio the medal of Knight, First Class, of the Order of the White Rose of Finland and University Lecturer Mirja Ruohoniemi the medal of Knight of the Order of the White Rose of Finland.


Merja Rantala
Director of Department, Department of Equine and Small Animal Medicine
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
University of Helsinki