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.
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The ancient history of veterinarians
The earliest historical records of veterinarian medical efforts come from China and Egypt and date to about 3000 B.C. In fact, historians believe that veterinary practices in Egypt may be the oldest of any country because of the great respect Egyptians have for animals. Records and hieroglyphs indicate human efforts to maintain the health of domestic animals using herbs.
The history of veterinarians is intertwined with religious connections. Mesopotamia had established veterinarians in 3000 B.C. Mesopotamians associated the practice of medicine with the divine. In India, the first veterinarians are thought to be the religious priests who were in charge of keeping cattle healthy. Later, Indian physicians healing humans also treated animals.
Alcmaeon, a Greek scientist, dissected animals as part of scientific studies in about 500 B.C. Greek medical practices were used by the Romans. After the follow of the ancient Roman Empire, the Christian church felt that animals had no immortal soul and did not need medical treatment, so interest in veterinary practices lessened. But when Europeans realized that the health of animals can affect human health, and as animals were used for transport, agriculture, and warfare, interest in veterinary care rose again.
Historical animal health
The history of veterinary medicine rose from a human need to care for animals that they relied on and from close proximity of humans and animals. In ancient Egypt, for instance, people and animals shared the same space, which means that disease could spread quickly. Generally, a vet in historical times would treat animals like cattle and horses.
Notations of livestock plagues were common during the 1400s, although little research or treatment was attempted. The advent of the microscope in the late 1500s 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 colleges and schools
The first school dedicated exclusively to veterinarian medicine in Europe was established in Lyons, France, in 1762 following a plague that caused widespread cattle deaths. 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, the Veterinary College of Philadelphia, was not established until 1852, more than a century after the first European schools.
First veterinary publications
Even before American veterinarian schools began, books on animal health topics were published. The first veterinary medicine books, "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.
In the ancient Roman empire, the writer Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus penned the "Guide to Veterinary Medicine."
History of veterinary organizations
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) was founded in 1863, predating the first veterinarian school in the country, and had 1,650 members by 1913. The Bureau of Animal Industry, a department of the USDA, was founded about two decades later in 1884.
The American Veterinary Medical History Society, founded in 1978, conducts research on the past of the profession.
Veterinarians become medical professionals
Starting about 1940, the AVMA promoted the veterinarian as a medical professional equal to human doctors. The AVMA reports that women graduated from American veterinary schools in 1915 but were active in the profession prior to that. 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.