Featured News 2018 The First Veterinarians: A Brief History

The First Veterinarians: A Brief History

Humans have relied on our animals for thousands of years—first as food, then as labor, and then as companions.

From the moment human beings decided raising animals was easier than stalking them, livestock played a prominent role in daily life. Oxen and horses were necessary to plow fields and yield larger harvests for less work. Large animals were also used for transportation. It was very important that these creatures were kept in good health. Just like we now take our cars into the shop for routine check-ups and oil changes, ancient civilizations had to maintain the operability of their animals.

It shouldn't be surprising, then, that veterinarians have a history dating back to ancient times.

Historians have found early Chinese writings that detail the medical procedures and prescriptions for sick oxen, buffalo, and horses—some of them date all the way back to 2,500 BC! The ancient Egyptians painted pictures in 3,000 and 4,000 BC that illustrate veterinarians caring for their dogs and chariot horses. Research suggests that the cat was domesticated and brought into Egyptian homes in 2000 BC, and some ancient pottery and wall art portrays these cats being treated by doctors. Indian art from around the same time depicts men and women caring for elephants and horses.

It wasn't long until scholars and thinkers recorded information on animal medicine. The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle carefully laid out a system to classify and categorize animals, a practice we call taxonomy. His system is still used in veterinary practice today. Comulla, a Roman scholar, wrote a 12-volumes compendium on animals, including their health. He was the first to use the term "veterianarius" to describe a doctor of animals. In 1598, an Italian veterinarian names Carlo Ruini wrote a helpful guidebook for equestrian veterinarians known as the Anatomy of the Horse.

The First School for Veterinary Practice

In 1782, the first veterinary school opened its doors in Lyon, France.

Prior to this school, medical procedures for human and animal patients were interchangeable. The school marked the first time that scholars distinguished between the study of animal health and the study of human health. John Hunter, a veterinarian in the late 18th century, aided the field's growth by popularizing animal medical practices and publishing many works on animal medicine.

The first detailed animal care records were filed in Germany in 1964, and a few years later, German vets started a symposium on veterinary medicine in Hanover. This small conference became the cornerstone for the World Association of Veterinary Medicine.

America Changes Its Relationship With Its Pets

It wasn't until Dr. James Law began teaching at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in the mid-19th century that veterinary medicine became a topic of study in the United States. He was the first professor to introduce veterinary medicine to American students. Following Law's introduction, practitioners in the U.S. established The American Veterinary Medical Association in 1863.

Still, paid veterinarians were rare in American until after World War II. Before this time, most household pets were not given proper medical attention, and the only animals that were serviced were horses or dogs used in the war effort. Horse vets were commonly known as farriers and multi-tasked as horseshoe makers and equine doctors. One British veterinarian named George Dadd helped to bolster the American knowledge of equine and livestock medical practices with his works "The American Cattle Doctor" and "The Modern Horse Doctor," published in 1851 and 1854.

Veterinarians worked somewhat independently until Dr. Henry Moskey was hired by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as the first government-employed veterinarian. This led to the establishment of the Veterinary Medical branch in 1953. Now, the Bureau of Veterinary Medicine and the Center for Veterinary Medicine also work to regulate the medications and foods that are given to animals.

Today, there are only 28 accredited schools of veterinary medicine in the United States. Approximately 2,500 individuals graduate with degrees in this field each year. Competition for veterinary positions is intense, though the industry is estimated to increase by 1/3 in the next 10 years.

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