Veterinary Services

Veterinary Medicine, A Brief History

For as long as animals were around humans, there were humans around to take care of them, and as long as humans were around, there was a need for healing. The healing for one often led to the healing of the other.

Ancient Healing

Ancient healing of animals, like that of humans, relied on various modalities. We relied heavily upon nature to supply us with medicinal herbs, and the use of our intuitive guidance for healing using divine prayer, faith healing, incantations, and various procedures in the treatment of illness and injury.

Historians of ancient history and civilizations have dated the existence of humans 200,000 years ago, and animals have been a part of that. These relationships are steeped in folklore, mythology, and scientific exploration and examination.

The relationship between humans and animals was based upon the need for food, work, travel, companionship, and some divine influence. The care, husbandry and treatment of animals and humans have been referenced in many ancient texts, from various cultures over time.

Dogs, cats, oxen, horses, and birds were some species that have been co-existing with humans on a more personal level. For instance, archaeological findings, ancient texts, and investigation of fossilized DNA have dated human relationships with dogs as far back as 40,000 years ago.

Due to the lack of written documentation, it is not possible to definitively state where or when veterinary medicine was first practiced, but the healing and treatments of animals can be dated back to 4500 BCE.

Veterinary practice can be charted back to ancient civilizations such as China, Mesopotamia, Egypt, and India, thousands of years before it arrived in Greece and Rome, later which it would be developed throughout Europe and then eventually into the United States.

Indians, Egyptians, and Chinese were the ones who first made use of veterinary medicine. Ancient Indian artworks portrayed pictures of people taking care of animals. Asoka, an emperor from India, is known to have started hospitals for the treatment of animals. In China, -3000 BCE, doctors known as “horse priests” used acupuncture to successfully treat lame or colic horses.

In ancient Mesopotamia, veterinarians were already established, and the practice was associated with the divine. Gula, (perhaps one of the first “veterinarians”, also known by many other names), is the Babylonian goddess of healing and patroness of doctors, healing arts, and medical practices. The name Gula means ‘Great’ and is usually interpreted to mean ‘great in healing’. She was also considered a Sumerian deity as the “goddess of dogs”.

“The two primary types of doctors in Mesopotamia were the Asu (a medical doctor who treated illness or injury based on observation and physical treatment of symptoms) and the Asipu (what one today would call a “faith healer” who relied on magical incantations, prayers, and herbs) and both of these types could be veterinarians. There was no distinction between the two – one was not thought to be any more effective or legitimate than the other – and so both “natural” and “supernatural” treatment of illness was practiced together.”

Ancient Documentation

Some of the Ancient texts from various civilizations, demonstrating the relationship between animals, humans, healing, and treatments include:

  • The Egyptian polymath Imhotep (l. c. 2667-2600 BCE);
  • The Code of Eshnunna (1930 BCE);
  • The Code of Hammurabi, (c. 1754 BCE);
  • The Kahun Papyri (2040-1782 BCE)
  • Hermetic books at the Temple of Hermopolis (of which six were medical texts giving formulas and remedies);
  • Two texts from the Vedic Period in India (c. 1500-500 BCE),
  • The Sushruta Samhita (600-500 BCE), and The Shalihotra Samhita (200 BCE);
  • The Greek works of Hippocrates, (460-375 BCE), who emphasized a completely empirical approach to diagnosing and treating both humans and animals;
  • The Huang Di Nei Jing, The Yellow Emperor’s Internal Classic, (200 BCE), the classic Chinese text, which is considered to be the most important ancient text in Chinese medicine that wrote about the natural effects of diet, lifestyle, emotions, environment, and age as the reason diseases develop.

Philosophies of Healing

In alignment with that, Hippocrates was the first Greek healer to maintain that illness was caused by environmental factors, diet, and lifestyle. He suggested diet as one of the most important aspects of maintaining health, in humans or animals, as well as regular exercise, sunlight, massage, relaxation, and elevation of one’s mood, aromatherapy, and regular bathing.

His works and philosophies set the tone for those who came after him, such as a man named Metrodorus of Lamia (in Thessaly) in 130 BCE, who was famous for his skill in healing animals. He was especially known for his work with horses and was well respected as a veterinary surgeon.

Greek medical practices were adopted by the Romans and, most famously, by Galen (129-216 CE) who recognized the similarity in human and animal physiology, and anatomy. He correctly assumed that what was harmful to an animal would be equally so to a human and, conversely, what would encourage health in the one would most likely do so in the other. Emperor Marcus Aurelius called him the “best of physicians and the first of philosophers.” To Galen, a good physician also had to be a good philosopher.

Veterinary science and medicine changed dramatically after the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE, and the rise of Christianity. According to Dr. Earl Guthrie; “The Church forbade dissection and autopsies and confiscated and destroyed much of the literature on the subject of Veterinary Medicine. During this time no new literature was written. The only work that was done, was by the Arabs in Spain. Because of their love of the horse and excellent horsemanship, they were interested in the diseases of the horse”.

Re-emergence of Veterinary Medicine

It was not until the Age of Enlightenment (c. 1715-1789 CE), almost 1200 years later, that veterinary medicine would again be regarded with any serious interest. Those who wrote on the subject, however, had no knowledge of the contributions of the Chinese, Sumerians, Indians, Egyptians, or others and believed the works of the Greeks and Romans to be the earliest in the field. It was natural, therefore, that Hippocrates, Galen, and Vegetius (a 4th-century Roman author who wrote Digesta Artis Mulomedicinae, a guide to veterinary medicine), should be the ones whose work informed the first veterinary schools of Europe.

The French king Louis XV (r. 1715-1774 CE) established a Royal School of Veterinary Medicine in 1765 CE and more schools would follow in other European countries through 1791 CE- 1862 CE. He was also highly influential in the availability and distribution of champagne, (which I will talk about another time)… Thank you, King Louis XV!… Not long after that, the first veterinary school in the United States – the Veterinary College of Philadelphia, was established in 1852 CE.

In Conclusion

The history and journey of veterinary medicine, and medicine in general, over the past tens of thousands of years, is filled with fascinating, mystical, intuitive, ancient cultural influences and practices that have been lost, forgotten, remembered and re-embraced.

Following the decline of the Roman empire and the entering of the Dark Ages, the information and practices were lost and over the last 300 years, there has been an emergence of a Newtonian, Cartesianism-based medical practice.

With the mixture of great scientific minds, research and exploration with a consciousness based upon the focus on the material world, there was the creation and emergence of “modern” medicine, pharmaceuticals and the treatment of disease through symptomatic-based therapies. In recent decades, to our great benefit, there has been the introduction of new techniques and advanced technology implemented in surgical practice. We are finding that we are only limited by our own imaginations.

Despite all the amazing inventions, our current conventional medical mindset has little regard for the ancient Chinese, and Hippocratic philosophy of healing, health and wellness associated with and influenced by environmental factors, diet, and lifestyle.

The evolution of the understanding of the connection between mind, body, and spirit pertaining to overall well-being has been filtered and influenced by religious, political, and socio-economical beliefs and dogmas.

It is only in the last 30- 50 years that some of the medical professionals have traced and embraced the ancient arts of healing in accordance with sophisticated technology and scientific advancements, incorporating the best of both the modern and ancient worlds.

Our knowledge of physiology and the connection that our bodies have with our mind, thoughts, emotions and state of being and the effect we have on each other and our animals has evolved into a more comprehensive understanding of the combination of ancient practices and modern science.

We can now define the ancient mystical practice through our understanding of quantum physics and how energy and matter interplay. With the use of technology, time-proven techniques, surgery, natural earth-made substances, modern pharmaceuticals, meditative, and intuition-guided mindfulness; we can embrace all the knowledge, and wisdom our ancestors, and medical predecessors have gifted us and go forth to enter a new paradigm with merging and bridging science and mysticism, creating health and well being.

It is in the practice of Emergency medicine where conventional or allopathic medicine is the most impactful and profound.

The Caduceus

The symbol was first associated with the Egyptian deity Gula and her children whose symbol was the staff of intertwining serpents ( symbolic for transformation), which was later associated with Hippocrates, Hermes, and Asclepius and became the symbol of the medical profession today. The winged staff with its entwined serpents have been recognized by many cultures as a representation of healing and transformation.

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Dr. Barrie Sands is a veterinarian, healer, scientist, author, artist, and an international educator and speaker.

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