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Animal Welfare from  Ancient Times


The origins of veterinary medicine are difficult to pinpoint, just as it is challenging to determine the precise beginnings of animal husbandry and the domestication of animals. These practices likely developed alongside each other as humans began to form close relationships with animals. The domestication of animals, which involved the taming, breeding, and care of animals for various purposes, is generally believed to have occurred as early as 12,000-10,000 BC[2], although some evidence suggests even earlier dates. As humans began to domesticate animals and started relying on them for food, labour, companionship, and other purposes, the need to care for their health and well-being would have arisen naturally.

It is possible to chart a rough evolution of veterinary practice in ancient civilisations such as China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India long before it arrived in Greece and Rome, from where it was later developed throughout Europe.[3]

Picture Credit: “veterinary clinic, dog and cat, caucasian, check, checkup, clinic, doctor, dog, equipment, examination, examining, hand, health, healthcare, healthy, hold, holding, kitten, kitty, love, medical, medicine, nurse, occupation, people, pe” by is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

The ‘Father’ of Veterinarians
The Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine[4] says that:
“Traditional Chinese veterinary medicine dates back to 10,000 years ago. According to legend, Emperor Fusi taught the existing primitive Chinese society how to domesticate animals. With domestication came the need to care for those animals, and so, Fusi founded animal husbandry and veterinary medicine in China.“

“In Middle Eastern countries, shepherds used a “crude understanding” of basic medical techniques and skills to tend to their dogs and other animals.”

“During the Stone Age, ancient veterinarians used early forms of herbal medicine. Around the start of the Bronze Age (approximately 3000 BCE), a man named Urlugaledinna, who lived in the Mesopotamia region (modern-day Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Kuwait), was known to be an expert at healing animals. Urlugaledinna is sometimes given the title “father of veterinarians.” [5]

The Code of Hammurabi
One of the earliest mentions of veterinary medicine appeared in the Egyptian Papyrus of Kahun around 1800 BC, then shortly afterwards in the famous Code of Hammurabi – a collection of 282 rules, establishing standards for commercial interactions and setting fines and punishments to meet the requirements of justice. The code includes many harsh penalties, sometimes demanding the removal of the guilty party’s tongue, hands, breasts, eye or ear. But it is also one of the earliest examples of an accused person being considered innocent until proven guilty. All 282 rules are written in if-then form. For example, if a man steals an ox, then he must pay back 30 times its value.

Picture Credit: [Cropped] “Law Code of Hammurabi Detail” by cajut is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

While there are other written Mesopotamian laws, including the Sumerian Lipit-Ishtar and Ur-Nammu, that predate Hammurabi’s by hundreds of years, Hammurabi’s reputation remains as a pioneering lawgiver who worked, in the words of his monument: ‘to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak and to see that justice is done to widows and orphans.’[6]

The codes have served as a model to establish justice in other cultures and have influenced laws set by Hebrew scribes, including those in the Book of Exodus. Originally, the codes were carved into a massive monolith of black diorite, eight feet high. The pillar was lost for centuries after the fall of Babylon in 1595 BC but was rediscovered in the ruins of the Elamite city of Susa in 1901. Code 224 says: ‘If a veterinary surgeon performs a serious operation on an ass or an ox and cures it, the owner shall pay the surgeon one-sixth of a shekel as a fee.’ Code 225 says: ‘If he performs a serious operation on an ass or ox and kills it, he shall pay the owner one-fourth of its value.’[7]

Ancient vets were called Hippiatroi (horse doctors), Mulomedicus (mule doctors) or Medicus Pecuarius (livestock doctors). The word “veterinarian” itself (or ‘vet’ for short) comes from the Latin word veterinaries, which means ‘concerned with Beasts of Burden.’ These animals provided the very basis of early economies, both civilian and military.[8]

Development of the Practice of Veterinary Medicine
The early practices of veterinary medicine were likely rudimentary and based on trial and error, passed down through generations of animal caretakers. These practices would have involved basic remedies, treatments, and observations of animal behaviour and ailments. Over time, as human societies developed and agricultural practices advanced, veterinary medicine became more formalised and sophisticated. Ancient civilisations, such as those in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome, made significant contributions to the field, documenting their knowledge and practices in written texts and employing specialised individuals to care for animals’ health.

While it is difficult to determine a specific starting point or attribute the origin of veterinary medicine to a single individual like Urlugaledinna, it is reasonable to assume that some form of veterinary care and healing practices emerged alongside early animal domestication and animal husbandry. Urlugaledinna (who lived in 3000 BC in Mesopotamia) is sometimes referred to as the “father of veterinarians.

The historical context and the extent of his influence in veterinary medicine during the Bronze Age are not well-documented. However, it is believed that he possessed significant knowledge and skills in treating animals, which earned him recognition as an expert in healing and caring for animals.

Given the limited available information, providing a comprehensive account of Urlugaledinna’s status as an early veterinary figure is challenging. However, it is worth acknowledging that some sources attribute this important role to him, highlighting his potential contributions to animal healing during that time period.

Claudius Aelianus (Aelian)
On the Nature of Animals” (also known as “De Natura Animalium” in Latin) is a work written by the ancient Greek author Claudius Aelianus, commonly known as Aelian. This book is a compilation of various anecdotes, observations, and descriptions of animals from around the world. Aelian’s work, written in the 2nd to 3rd century AD, consists of 17 books, each dedicated to a particular group of animals or a specific theme related to the animal kingdom. The topics covered in the book include mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, insects, and even mythical creatures. Aelian offers a combination of scientific observations and fantastical tales, presenting a blend of factual information and mythical folklore.

The work aims to provide an understanding of the characteristics, behaviours, and natural history of a wide range of animals. Aelian describes various aspects of animal life, including their habits, habitats, reproductive behaviours, and unique physical traits. He draws from a diverse range of sources, incorporating accounts from earlier writers and travellers, as well as his personal observations and popular beliefs of the time.

Aelian’s approach to the subject matter of animals is not purely scientific but also includes moralistic and philosophical reflections. He often ascribes human-like qualities to animals, discussing their virtues, vices, and even their capacity for reason. Aelian uses these anecdotes to draw lessons and make ethical points about human behaviour.

While Aelian’s work does not offer a systematic or comprehensive scientific study of animals, it is valuable as a compilation of ancient knowledge and beliefs about the natural world.[9]On the Nature of Animals” provides insights into the perceptions and interpretations of animals in the ancient world, reflecting the cultural and intellectual context of the time. The book has been influential in preserving ancient knowledge about animals, and it continues to be studied by scholars interested in ancient zoology, natural history, and classical literature. It serves as a fascinating glimpse into the understanding and interpretation of the animal kingdom during the period in which it was written.

Hippocrates, the ancient Greek physician often referred to as the “Father of Medicine,” primarily focused his writings on human medicine and healthcare rather than animals and their welfare. The majority of Hippocrates’ surviving works, known collectively as the Hippocratic Corpus, are concerned with topics related to human health, diseases, medical treatments, and the principles of medicine. However, while no specific treatise by Hippocrates is dedicated to animals or their welfare, his observations and teachings on human medicine often involved comparisons and analogies with the animal kingdom. Hippocrates recognised the importance of studying animals to understand human anatomy, physiology, and diseases. He believed in the principle of “clinical observation,” which involved closely observing patients and noting their symptoms, similar to how an animal’s behaviour and symptoms would be observed.[10]

It is important to note that the understanding and approach to animal welfare during Hippocrates’ time differed significantly from modern perspectives. Ancient Greek society generally viewed animals as subservient to humans and used them for various purposes, including labour, food, and sacrifice.

A century after Hippocrates, Aesculapius, the son of Apollo, was deified as the “god of healing” for bringing health to man and animals. Aesculapius proposed direct intervention by the physician and emphasised an understanding of anatomy and pathology. His symbol[11] was a staff with serpents coiled around it and was carried by the messenger god Hermes or Mercury.

Ancient India
Shalihotra was an ancient Indian physician who lived around the 3rd century BC. He is known for his extensive work in veterinary medicine and animal healthcare. He authored a treatise called “Shalihotra Samhita” that covered various topics related to animal diseases, their treatment, and general care. Shalihotra’s contributions to veterinary medicine were significant and laid the foundation for the development of veterinary science in ancient India.

Ancient literature from India, such as the Puranas, indicates the existence of animal medicine dating back thousands of years. Texts provide insights into the early practice of veterinary science in ancient India, according to which veterinary medicine was believed to be divided into eight subjects or disciplines. These subjects encompassed various aspects of animal health and care. The divisions mentioned in the texts are as follows:

  • General Surgery: covering surgical procedures performed on animals, including wound management, fracture treatment, and other surgical interventions.
  • General Therapeutics: focusing on the general treatment and management of animal diseases and ailments, including the use of herbal remedies, poultices, and other therapeutic methods.
  • Ophthalmology: dealing with the diagnosis and treatment of eye-related conditions in animals.
  • Otorhinolaryngology: encompassing the understanding and treatment of diseases and disorders affecting animals’ ears, nose, and throat.
  • Care of Foals: foal care would have encompassed the specific needs and healthcare practices related to young horses.
  • Toxicology: this subject would have involved understanding and managing poisoning and toxic substances affecting animals.
  • Treatments: the treatments mentioned likely refer to a broader range of medical interventions and therapies used for various animal ailments.
  • Demonology and the Use of Aphrodisiacs: This subject may relate to the belief in supernatural causes of illnesses or the use of specific remedies, possibly including herbal aphrodisiacs, thought to improve animal fertility or performance.

While the exact details and practices of veterinary medicine in ancient India may vary based on different texts and regions, these eight subjects highlight the diverse aspects of animal healthcare and the early understanding of veterinary science during that time.

It’s important to note that the understanding of veterinary medicine and the practices mentioned in ancient texts have evolved significantly over time. Modern veterinary medicine is based on scientific principles, advanced diagnostic techniques, and evidence-based treatments that have developed through centuries of research and progress.

Bourgelat’s Veterinary School in Lyon
From the time of Urlugaledinna (see above), there are references to veterinarians and veterinary practices through extant written records.  But everything changed in 1761 with the founding of the veterinary school in Lyon, France, by Claude Bourgelat. Arguably, the veterinary profession can be said to have started from that time. Claude Bourgelat was a French veterinarian and administrator who played a pivotal role in establishing the school.

Bourgelat recognised the need for a formalised education system to train veterinarians and improve animal health practices. At the time, veterinary medicine was not well-regulated, and there was a lack of standardised knowledge and training for those working with animals. Bourgelat’s veterinary school in Lyon was known as the “Royal Veterinary School” (École Royale Vétérinaire de Lyon) and was the first of its kind in the world, marking a significant milestone in the development of veterinary education.

Bourgelat’s vision for the school was to provide a comprehensive education in veterinary science and to train professionals to address animal diseases, promote animal welfare, and contribute to public health. He emphasised the importance of understanding anatomy, pathology, and clinical practices to effectively diagnose and treat animal illnesses.

Under Bourgelat’s leadership, the veterinary school implemented a rigorous curriculum that combined theoretical knowledge with practical experience, attracting students from various countries seeking to gain expertise in veterinary medicine. Bourgelat’s contributions extended beyond the establishment of the school. He also advocated for the professional recognition of veterinarians and the standardisation of veterinary practices. Bourgelat believed in the importance of preventing and controlling animal diseases through sound knowledge and scientific methods.

The Lyon Veterinary School became a model for other veterinary institutions established later around the world and helped lay the foundation for the professionalisation of veterinary medicine and the development of veterinary education as a distinct discipline.

Today, the Lyon Veterinary School continues to be an esteemed institution within the field of veterinary medicine. It has evolved and expanded its programs to meet the changing needs of veterinary education and research. The school’s legacy as the first veterinary school remains an important milestone in the history of veterinary medicine and education worldwide.[12]

Odiham Agricultural Society and the Establishment of the London Veterinary College
Some years after Bourgelat started his school in Lyon, the veterinary profession took off in Britain when the Odiham Agricultural Society held a meeting at which it resolved the following:

“that the Society will consult the good of the community in general, and of the limits of the Society in particular, by encouraging such means as are likely to promote the study of farriery upon rational scientific principles.”

The Society was formed in 1783 by a collection of prominent citizens in Odiham, Hampshire, UK, to encourage local industrial and agricultural development. It aimed to advance knowledge in livestock breeding and management.

Picture Credit: A veterinarian conducts surgery on a domestic cat.
Attribution:, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
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This file is made available under the Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication.

Out of the Odiham Society’s deliberations came the establishment of the London Veterinary College in 1791, the start of the development of veterinary science and a professional group dedicated to animal medicine. On 18th February 1791,[13] the London Committee of the Odiham Agricultural Society resolved to separate itself from the parent Society in Odiham to obtain patronage from the Duke of Northumberland, who was unwilling to commit to a subordinate committee. The meeting resolved that they should be called The Veterinary College, London, from that day.[14]

Initially, the veterinary profession in Britain was centred on the horse and remained so for many years, influenced by the needs of the British Army. Over time, the interests of the veterinary profession spread to cattle and other livestock, then to dogs and now to companion and exotic animals.[15]

A merger between the London Veterinary College[16] and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS) took place in 1949. Before the merger, the London Veterinary College was an independent institution, and the RCVS was the regulatory body for the veterinary profession. The merger brought together the educational and regulatory functions, creating a unified institution known as the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) in London. Here’s an overview of their respective functions:

  • Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons (RCVS): The RCVS is the regulatory body for veterinary surgeons in the United Kingdom. Its primary role is to safeguard animal health and welfare and ensure the standards of veterinary education and practice. The RCVS sets the professional standards and codes of conduct for veterinary surgeons, registers qualified veterinarians, and regulates veterinary education and training programs. It also conducts inspections and investigations to ensure compliance with professional standards and handles disciplinary matters when necessary.
  • Royal Veterinary College (RVC): The RVC is a renowned veterinary school and research institution located in London. It was formed through the merger of the London Veterinary College and the RCVS in 1949. The RVC is a leading centre for veterinary education, research, and veterinary healthcare services. It offers undergraduate and postgraduate programs in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing, and veterinary sciences. The RVC conducts innovative research in various areas of veterinary medicine and contributes to advancements in animal health, welfare, and veterinary science.

Notable 19th and 20th Century Veterinarians

While the field of veterinary medicine has historically been male-dominated, there were some women veterinarians who made significant contributions. Although they faced challenges and prejudices, they made important strides in breaking barriers for subsequent generations of women in veterinary medicine. Here are a few notable examples:

  • Dr Aleen Cust (1868-1937): Dr Cust, a British veterinarian, became the first female veterinary surgeon in the world in 1897 after successfully challenging the restrictive policies of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. She played a crucial role in paving the way for women to enter the veterinary profession.
  • Dr Florence Kimball (1860-1944): Dr Kimball, an American veterinarian, was the first woman to graduate from a veterinary school in the United States. She earned her degree from the New York College of Veterinary Surgeons in 1899.
  • Dr Gertrude Stock (1870-1966): Dr Stock, a British veterinarian, was one of the first women to practice veterinary medicine. In 1891 she founded the National Canine Defence League (today known as Dogs Trust) to protect dogs from “torture and ill-usage of every kind”.

These women and others faced considerable challenges and prejudices during their time but made important strides in breaking barriers and expanding opportunities for women in veterinary medicine. Their pioneering efforts opened doors for subsequent generations of women to pursue veterinary careers.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, men played significant roles in the development and advancement of veterinary medicine. Here are a few notable men in the field during that time:

  • Dr Edward Jenner (1749-1823): Dr Jenner, an English physician and scientist, is considered the pioneer of the smallpox vaccine. Although not strictly a veterinarian, his work in immunology profoundly impacted human and animal health, as diseases could affect both populations.
  • Dr John Gamgee (1831-1894): Dr Gamgee, a Scottish veterinarian, made significant contributions to veterinary medicine. He specialised in the contagious diseases of larger animals: primarily cattle and horses. He introduced antiseptic techniques in veterinary surgery and developed new surgical instruments. He also founded the New Veterinary College in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1857. In 1863, Gamgee organised the first conference of what would evolve into the World Veterinary Association.
  • Dr William Osler (1849-1919): Dr Osler, a Canadian physician, is known for his contributions to human medicine. However, his work had implications for veterinary medicine as well. He emphasised the importance of clinical observation and teaching medical students at the bedside, which had a lasting impact on medical education.
  • Dr Claude Bourgelat (1712-1779): As mentioned earlier, Dr Bourgelat, a French veterinarian, founded the world’s first veterinary school in Lyon, France. His establishment of the veterinary school and his efforts to professionalise veterinary medicine contributed significantly to the field’s development.

These are just a few examples of the many men who made significant contributions to veterinary medicine during the 19th and 20th centuries. Their work, along with that of numerous other individuals, helped shape the field, improve animal health, and advance veterinary science.

British Army Veterinary Doctors[17]
The British Army Veterinary Doctors, known as Veterinary Officers within the Royal Army Veterinary Corps (RAVC), play a crucial role in managing the Army’s Military Working Animals (MWAs) and ensuring their health and well-being. In addition to overseeing the care and treatment of animals, Veterinary Officers also lead soldiers under their command, providing guidance and expertise in animal healthcare.

A Veterinary Officer is responsible for various animal health issues, including those commonly encountered in civilian veterinary practice. However, they also face unique veterinary challenges specific to the military context. These challenges may include advising on disease controls, implementing biosecurity measures, and ensuring the health and readiness of MWAs in various operational environments.

To enhance your qualifications and professional development, a Veterinary Officer has the opportunity to pursue the Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Practice. This certification allows you to expand expertise and knowledge in specific areas of veterinary medicine, contributing to effectiveness as a Veterinary Officer.

Being part of the RAVC offers professional growth, diverse experiences, and opportunities. As a member of the Army, Veterinary Officers can expect to travel to different locations, engage in various sports activities, and participate in Adventurous Training, which involves challenging outdoor activities. These additional aspects contribute to a well-rounded and fulfilling career as a British Army Veterinary Doctor.

Overall, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps is dedicated to developing best practices in animal husbandry, training, preventive medicine, and caring for Military Working Animals. Veterinary Officers within the RAVC play a vital role in ensuring the welfare and operational effectiveness of these animals, combining their veterinary expertise with the unique demands of military service.

Picture Credit: A RAVC Officer checks the health of local livestock, Afghanistan, 2011.
Attribution: Photo: LA(Phot) Iggy Roberts/MOD, OGL v1.0OGL v1.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL:

This file is licensed under the Open Government Licence version 1.0 (OGL v1.0).

Veterinary Schools
There are currently 11 veterinary schools in the UK[18]:

An extensive list of schools of veterinary medicine around the world can be found at:

UK Pet Charities
In the UK, there are several pet charities providing veterinary care and support to pet owners who may have limited financial means. One notable charity is the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

The PDSA is a well-known veterinary charity in the UK, established in 1917 by Maria Dickin. Its primary mission is to improve the well-being of pets and educate pet owners on responsible pet ownership. The PDSA operates a network of veterinary clinics nationwide, known as PDSA Pet Hospitals or PDSA Pet Clinics.

The PDSA provides free or low-cost veterinary services to eligible pet owners who are in receipt of certain means-tested benefits. The veterinary services include preventive care, vaccinations, medical treatments, surgeries, and emergency care. The charity aims to ensure that pets receive the necessary veterinary care regardless of their owner’s financial situation.

Apart from veterinary services, the PDSA also promotes responsible pet ownership through educational campaigns, community outreach programs, and initiatives that raise awareness of pet health and welfare. They provide educational resources, pet care advice, and support to help pet owners provide the best possible care for their animals.

In addition to the PDSA, there are other pet charities in the UK providing similar services and support. These include Blue Cross, RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, Cats Protection, and Dogs Trust (formerly called the National Canine Defence League).

All these charities rely on donations and fundraising efforts to carry out their work. They play a crucial role in promoting the well-being of pets, assisting pet owners in need, and advocating for animal welfare.

Sources and Further Reading

Scholarly Paper:


CAUTION: This paper is compiled from the sources stated but has not been externally reviewed. Parts of this paper include information provided via artificial intelligence which, although checked by the author, is not always accurate or reliable. Neither we nor any third parties provide any warranty or guarantee as to the accuracy, timeliness, performance, completeness or suitability of the information and materials covered in this paper for any particular purpose. Such information and materials may contain inaccuracies or errors and we expressly exclude liability for any such inaccuracies or errors to the fullest extent permitted by law. Your use of any information or materials on this website is entirely at your own risk, for which we shall not be liable. It shall be your own responsibility to ensure that any products, services or information available through this paper meet your specific requirements and you should neither take action nor exercise inaction without taking appropriate professional advice. The hyperlinks were current at the date of publication.

End Notes and Explanations
  1. Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: [chat] and
  2. Note: While this is a widely accepted timeframe, it is important to note that the exact dates and locations of animal domestication are still topics of ongoing research and debate among archaeologists and historians.
  3. Source:
  4. Source and Acknowledgement:
  5. Note: The title “Father of Veterinarians” is not universally recognised, and the historical context and extent of Urlugaledinna’s influence in veterinary medicine are not extensively documented.
  6. Source:
  7. Source:,
  8. Source:
  9. Note: It should be noted that Aelian was not a veterinarian himself but an ancient Greek author who compiled information and anecdotes about animals from various sources.
  10. Note: It is important to remember that while Hippocrates primarily focused on human medicine, his teachings and observations often involved comparisons and analogies with the animal kingdom. However, there is no specific treatise by Hippocrates dedicated solely to animals or their welfare.
  11. Note: This emblem, called the Caduceus, is still used to represent the medical profession today.
  12. Explanation: Today, Bourgelat’s school is now commonly referred to as the “VetAgro Sup – Campus Vétérinaire de Lyon.” This change in name reflects organisational and administrative developments that have occurred over the years.
  13. Sources: [1] Pugh, L.P (1962). pp. 34-35. From Farriery to Veterinary Medicine 1785-1795. Heffner, Cambridge (for RCVS), and [2] Cotchen, Ernest (1990). p. 22. The Royal Veterinary College London, A Bicentenary History. Barracuda Books Ltd. Cited at:
  14. Source:
  15. Source: Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons,
  16. Explanation/Clarification: The London Veterinary College, also known as the Veterinary College of London, was the predecessor of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC). It was established in 1791 and played a significant role in the development of veterinary education and the veterinary profession. However, as a separate institution, the London Veterinary College does not exist today as an independent organisation.
  17. See also:
  18. Source: Source: BVA,

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