Dog Manual


The Veterinarian


Just as the proper care of a child demands the services of a competent physician, so the proper care of a puppy demands the services of a veterinarian. But while the physician readily inspires confidence because most people are thoroughly aware of the rigorous training he has received, the status of the veterinarian is somehow uncertain. Veterinarians have not been accorded the adequate publicity that the physician has received, and the result has been that in some circles people still look upon the "horse doctor" with peculiar disdain. The function lying behind this distasteful epithet is now quite obsolete. A few words on the general field of the veterinarian may give a clear picture of the modern veterinarian's job and may help to inspire the confidence that he richly deserves.

The general public is not sufficiently aware of the manifold functions of the veterinary surgeon. People in large metropolitan areas look upon the veterinarian as the one to be called when their pets are indisposed. In the more rural sections of the country he is regarded as the guardian of livestock health.

The veterinarian performs these duties and many more. It is on his judgment that meat is determined to be fit for human consumption, and it is on his authority that the seal of government approval is affixed. The inspection applies not only to meat proper, but to meat products, poultry, and poultry products. The veterinarian is also the inspector of milk, and it is through his rigid scrutiny that the wholesomeness of this best of all foods is maintained.

The Bureau of Animal Industry (now affiliated with the Agricultural Research Service) of the United States Department of Agriculture is composed largely of veterinarians, and it is through this agency that the meat inspection force operates. In addition, it carries on extensive campaigns that are vital to the maintenance of human and animal health. The marked reduction in human tuberculosis has been due, in large measure, to the bold efforts of veterinarians to eradicate this disease among cattle. Bang's Disease of cattle, goats, and swine is transmissible to man in the form of undulant fever, and much essential knowledge of this disease in both animals and man has been uncovered by veterinarians. Public-health veterinarians, working on local and national levels, have made substantial contributions to our knowledge of the prevention and treatment of communicable diseases in both animals and man.

Leather in this country is of such excellent caliber because of the veterinarian's control of ox warbles in cattle. Ox warbles are a type of parasite that bore into the hide. Without this control the leather would be full of holes. The extensive quantity of wool is assured by the control of sheep scab. Sheep scab is caused by a mite which so irritates the skin that the sheep bites out large chunks of hair, leaving the skin denuded. It is apparent that without the control of sheep scab much potential wool would be destroyed. In the army, the Veterinary Corps, besides caring for animals, purchase, inspect, and supervise preservation of all the food for the armed forces.
There are about twenty thousand veterinarians in the United States, of whom just a few are women. But women are present in sufficient numbers to have formed an American Women's Veterinary Medical Association to safeguard their interests. Most female veterinarians are engaged in research, teaching, and the treatment of the diseases of pets, though there are a few who are engaged in rural practice in the care of horses, cattle, sheep, swine, and poultry.

The veterinarian teaches in agricultural schools. He is responsible for the control of transmissible diseases over the entire nation and of those that may be imported from other countries. He treats wild animals in zoos, and elephants, camels, and other exotic domesticated animals in the tropics. He is a research scientist, is affiliated with the great scientific foundations all over the world, and has made substantial contributions to the principles of medicine. He is a scholar, the product of a long arduous university education, parallel to that of human medicine. He is a member of learned societies. He has been knighted and has otherwise been honored by kings.

Thus, in the food we eat, in the clothes we wear, and in many other phases of our health, general welfare, and everyday activities, the role of the veterinarian is apparent. Veterinary science will continue to progress as the average citizen of the community recognizes its inestimable value.

What especially puzzles most people about the veterinary profession is how the veterinarian goes about treating and curing sick animals. How, it is often asked, can a veterinarian diagnose an ailment? After all, the animal cannot speak to him. The animal cannot describe its pains and feelings or inform the veterinarian as to just how long the ailment has been going on. This is not so great a disadvantage as it appears to be. True, the animal cannot talk to the veterinarian, but by the same token, neither can the animal give the veterinarian information that is imaginary or misleading. And the further fact is that the animal does talk to the veterinarian, but in a language that is peculiarly its own. To be sure, the language is sometimes extremely subtle, but most of the time it is pretty clear-cut; and the veterinarian understands this language.

Let us take the dog as an example. The dog with a bellyache will arch its back, and its eyes will show an expression of pain. If its ears hurt, it will paw at them, rub them on the ground, or shake its head. If there is any pain in its legs, it will go lame and favor the affected limb. If its skin is irritated, it will scratch itself. If pressure is applied over a painful area, it will howl or growl. Endless examples of how the dog communicates its troubles to the veterinarian can be given. The same may be said for other animals, though to a somewhat lesser degree. Language in this sense is nothing more than signs or symbols that take the place of spoken language.

On his part, the veterinarian has to examine these signs as minutely as possible, and tries to arrive at the exact source of the difficulty. If he cannot make a diagnosis on the basis of these signs (or symptoms, if you prefer the word), then he supplements the information the animal has given him by using certain medical instruments, such as the thermometer, stethoscope, or X-ray machine.

If even these do not help him sufficiently, he resorts to laboratory procedures. Here he often runs into trouble, and the root of the trouble is the question of expense. Certain laboratory procedures which would be distinctly helpful to the veterinarian are often so prohibitive in cost that the ordinary owner simply cannot afford them.

But of course the veterinarian is still required to do his job. At this point he must cease to be a scientist who relies completely on observable and recordable data. He must become an artist because he must determine what is wrong with the animal without further scientific help. He must know it with his sensitivity as an artist rather than with his brain as a scientist. And most veterinarians are artists in this respect. So extensive is their experience with animals, that after a while they get to the point where they simply know what is wrong even when laboratory data are not available to them. It would be incorrect to imply, however, that the veterinarian knows this positively. He would be much happier if he could verify his diagnosis by laboratory analyses. None the less, his percentage of correct judgments, in spite of his limitations, is amazingly high. Naturally enough, being human, he is entitled to a certain margin for error.

Even after the diagnosis is established, treatment must be given with drugs that the owner can afford. The service of the veterinarian must be worth the fee. If the fee for treatment exceeds the value of the patient, then the animal is usually put to sleep. For veterinarians who treat farm animals, the correlation between fee and utility is very strict. For those who are engaged in the treatment of pets, this correlation is somewhat relaxed because the pet has sentimental value that cannot be measured in terms of money.

None the less, even in the latter instance, the restrictions placed on treatment are rather severe, and often the veterinarian must put an animal to sleep even though he is confident that he could effect a cure if he had the owner's cooperation.

Also, animals may sometimes react in unpredictable ways to different drugs. The veterinarian has no way of knowing this beforehand. He must be sure that the animal will not react unfavorably. With scientific means often unavailable to him, he must simply be sure that nothing will go wrong. Thus, in addition to his science, the veterinarian must have a feeling for his curative measures that has nothing to do with science.

The veterinarian must also be somewhat of a psychologist, because mental abnormalities in the animal often are reflections of the psychic disturbances of the owner. It is in this regard that the smoothness and deftness of the veterinarian must be most manifest. With diplomatic questions, posed under the guise of congenial conversation, he must determine any peculiarities in the working of the mind of the client that may assist him in analyzing the ailment of the animal. In analyzing his client and patient, the veterinarian further demonstrates his artistry.

These are some of the reasons why it is commonly said that the practice of veterinary medicine is often more of an art than a science. But the impression should not be given that the veterinarian is an artist altogether. Large-scale production has brought most of the modern drugs within the sphere of everyday usefulness. Efficient laboratories have made many phases of scientific laboratory procedure economically accessible to him. While there is no doubt that the veterinarian is getting more and more scientific all the time, the fact remains that all too often he must still rely upon his art.