The History of Veterinarians

By Keith Allen

A veterinarian is charged with providing health care to animals. The variety of animals the veterinarian will treat, and the animal’s inability to communicate symptoms, make the veterinarian profession more challenging than the practice of human medicine. The study of animal health goes back to ancient times, although it has become more organized since the 1800s. The American Veterinary Medical History Society conducts research on the past of the profession.

Ancient History

The earliest historical records of veterinarian medical efforts come from China and Egypt and date to about 3500 B.C. Records and hieroglyphs indicate human efforts to maintain the health of domestic animals using herbs. According to the website of the United States Department of Agriculture, Alcmaeon, a Greek scientist, dissected animals as part of scientific studies in about 500 B.C.

Animal Health

Notations of livestock plagues were common during the 1400s, although little research or treatment was attempted. The advent of the microscope in the late1500s advanced the understanding of the effect of microorganisms on the health of humans and animals. In 1712, the first vaccinations of cattle for the cattle plague occurred in Europe.

First Veterinarian Schools

The first school dedicated exclusively to veterinarian medicine was established in Lyons, France in 1762. Schools in Sweden, Denmark, Vienna and Germany followed in the next decade. The Royal Veterinary College in London was founded in 1791. The first American veterinarian school was not established until 1879, more than a century after the first European schools.

Publications

Even before American veterinarian schools began, books on animal health topics were published. "The Modern Horse Doctor," published in 1854, and "The American Cattle Doctor," published in 1851, were both written by George Dadd. English-born Dadd was educated as a human surgeon but turned his attention to veterinarian topics in the United States. At that time farriers, people who shod horses, often served as the health-care specialists for animals.

Organizations

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) was founded in 1863, predating the first veterinarian school in the country, while the Bureau of Animal Industry, a department of the USDA, was founded in 1884.

Medical Professionals

Starting about 1940, the AVMA promoted the veterinarian as a medical professional equal to human doctors. Changes in agriculture were reducing the importance of horses on farms, while a growing urban and suburban population was seeking health care options for their pet cats and dogs.