08 September 2011

The History of Veterinary Medicine - Part One.

history of veterinary medicine one
An ancient depiction of dogs from a carving in Egypt.

The History of Veterinary Medicine - Part One.

Now I live in a distant land and have more time on my hands I have been spending some time recently thinking about the history of my profession and I have been doing a little research on the subject.

I stress the following is just my personal view but I think we can divide the history of veterinary medicine into three ages. The first age would be the period distant ancient history, The Dark Ages if you like. The second period stretches from the eighteenth century to the mid twentieth century which could be the Age Of Development, and the third period I have called The Golden Age which stretches from the end of the second world war to today. This is time of rapid advances, the start of the use of of antibiotics, the influence of James Herriot and the coming of modern high tech equipment like MRI scanners.

In the beginning there are a number of documented references to veterinary medicine which go back before the birth of Christ, when I say documented it was not always the written word as we know it today but having said that some written word has survived. The first true written accounts are from fragments of Egyptian papyrus which appears to come from some form of textbook on veterinary medicine, the work has not survived in its entirety but it seems to describe diseases of cattle, dogs, birds and fish. The author has some knowledge of anatomy and has documented some diseases and suggested remedies. Similar fragments of Chinese writing has also been found which also date from well before the birth of Christ, this contains references to the diseases of horses, cattle and buffalo. A lot of the evidence of of people from ancient times caring for animals is in the form of paintings and carvings, ancient Hindu art shows men caring for elephants, and there are many Egyptian carvings showing animals of various kinds and the uses they well put to. Ancient man used animals for food, transport and agriculture but in some civilisations they took on a religious significance such as the cats in ancient Egypt. It is not clear how or when pet animals evolved but there must have been a strong bond between ancient hunters and their dogs as depicted in the hieroglyphics.

Another significant race at this time were the Romans, they had a word for people who were animal doctors and the word was veterinarius. The Romans had written works on veterinary medicine and of course at their height they were very well organised and disciplined in military matters, as horses and dogs were part of the army I must assume that there would be rigid codes and protocols for the husbandry and welfare of these army animals. More than likely the farriers of this period not only shod the horses but were responsible to some degree for what we would now call veterinary matters as well. When the Roman empire fell to the barbarians there was after that very few traces of veterinary medicine I could find until Carlo Ruini an Italian wrote a book called The Anatomy of the horse in about 1600. The end of my Dark Ages period comes in 1761 when the first veterinary school was founded in Lyons, France. This marks the start of the systematic approach to veterinary medicine and the start of my Age of Development.

Read part two of the series HERE