#MyrtleMondays: Veterinary Medicine in the Victorian Age

Dear Reader, Unfortunate Circumstances inspired this post—a third, unplanned entry in our series on Victorian Medicine. All is well in our feline household (well, well-ish), but it seemed a good time to look back on the care our furry friends and co-workers could expect in the 1800s.

Read More:

The Victorian Hospital Part 1 (Surgery)

The Victorian Hospital Part 2 (Hospital Life)

Crazy Quilt Supervisor Leo is currently recovering from surgery

The rapid advancement of medical knowledge during the 19th century benefited animals, as well. Not surprisingly, the initial focus was on working animals like livestock and horses rather than household pets, as those creatures earned their keep and were an economic necessity in daily life.

As students look on, surgeons work on horses at the University of Pennsylvania’s College of Veterinary Medicine, founded in the 1880s.

Veterinary colleges were established throughout Europe, Britain, and America. Iowa State University, in my hometown of Ames, Iowa, boasts the US’s oldest vet school.

Iowa State’s first Veterinary Hospital building was built in 1885, although courses in veterinary medicine had been taught since the college’s founding decades earlier.  According to the course catalogue, the new hospital offered all the “modern appliances for the treatment of diseased animals.”

Early coursework focused on diseases affecting farm animals, like tuberculosis—although England’s Royal College of Veterinary Medicine (1791) was formed in part to treat race horses!

Eighteenth century champion Eclipse inspired racing enthusiasts to establish a veterinary college to care for their valuable animals.

Publications like this 1886 booklet were available to help families care for their animals with over-the-counter remedies like Kendall’s Spavin Cure (a treatment for a type of arthritis affecting horses… and apparently every other condition that might strike equine or human.)

And books like this 1890 popular book on dogs include guidance for treating common dog ailments at home, written by a veterinarian.

Although the primary focus of veterinary medicine was livestock, small animals and family pets weren’t left behind.

1878 engraving celebrates “A Canine Aesculapius,” comparing this kindly vet to the ancient god of medicine

Famous pet fanciers like Queen Victoria made pet ownership fashionable and commercially profitable. As more and more small animals moved indoors, and middle-class Victorians began thinking of their dogs and cats as family members, they demanded greater care: better food and medicine.

Queen Victoria and her beloved border collie Sharp, 1860s.

Veterinary practices focusing on small animals began to open in prosperous areas to care for family pets. Interestingly, this branch of veterinary medicine was considered a suitable career for women, thanks to their delicate sensibilities. Many early female vets came out of animal welfare charities, which were also springing up at the time.

A vet poses outside his practice in the fashionable London neighborhood of Kensington, 1905

In addition to care from their neighborhood veterinary surgeon, 19th century pet owners could pick up everyday remedies at their local chemist/pharmacy.

This advert for flea soap appeared not in an ordinary newspaper, but in a publication targeting pharmacies, as a product their customers would surely want.

By the turn of the twentieth century, fewer horses and dogs were used in industry and transportation, and more and more people were moving to urban and suburban areas. Pet ownership boomed, and small animal practice began to overtake livestock services as the focus for the majority of veterinarians. And by the 1980s, more women than men would be enrolled as veterinary students–a trend that continues well into the next century.

This lass could be confident that her furry pals would get the best care available.

Read more:

Victorian Cats

Victorian Cats Redux

Speaking as a lifelong pet owner, I personally could not be more grateful for the wonderful care my animals have received from their neighborhood and specialist vets over the years. (And I’m sure if they paused to think about it, so would the critters.)

…Only two more weeks in The Cone.