Christchurch Pet Vet

Pets And Vets… Changing Roles

pet-vetA pet in modern times is defined as “a domestic or tamed animal kept for pleasure or companionship.” …  but it wasn’t always this way. In the late 1500s pet meant petty, or small, usually a ‘toy’ dog.

About ten thousand years ago man began domesticating animals, and plants, as he took to settling in one place, ending a nomadic hunter/gatherer lifestyle. The relationship of man with animals during this time changed from one of being predator or prey, to one of ownership. So, being thought of as having, or producing an economic worth, animals became regarded as property. And in some countries today, they are still used as forms of currency. We have, as a species, utilised animals for entertainment (from lions in the Colosseum to kitten videos on Youtube), as status symbols (hand-bag dogs), for many types of service (e.g. farm, military, Police, rescue, therapy, or Customs) work and many are raised for us to eat. Yet, in most of these practical roles, the animal involved is not considered totally a pet. A pet, it seems, is something of an indulgence, defined by it’s emotional worth, not so much it’s historical ability to feed/help/protect us.

The Industrial Revolution of the nineteen century further changed the relationship with ourselves and animals. Since that time the human population has become 90% urban, and only 10 % rural, with housing more densely surrounding factories, and trading centres. Our methods of transportation shifted from using animals to using machines, hunting became more a sport than food gathering, so the usefulness of some types of animal disappeared. Meanwhile the typical family has become smaller, more mobile, and less connected to community, or autonomously functional. As people have become disconnected from Nature, and more lonely in their living arrangements, our relationships with pets have evolved to fill these roles. And with that, large industries involved in feeding, producing toys and bedding, and other paraphernalia for our pets, have arisen. You can count Companion Animal vet. practice as one of those developments.

Over the years, there’s been a change from comparatively small numbers of pets, fed with table scraps as there were few commercial pet foods, often wandering as they pleased; to tightly confined, often overly-nourished, socially impoverished pets. In past times, regards breeding, only pure-bred pets would have been mated together, as mongrels, and moggies were unsaleable, usually given away. Now-a-days, of course, we have deliberate cross-breeding (designer dogs) for substantial profit, with, in general, a trend toward producing, in dogs, smaller breeds. Hopefully we’ve been selecting/creating pets that are best able to cope with our changing circumstances.

Veterinarians have a far shorter history; essentially evolving from farriers, who were vital in the horse-and-buggy days. With the advent of antibiotics, and far safer anaesthetics, vet. practices became more like a doctor’s; although with X-ray machines, surgeries, dental equipment, and other expensive items in use, their range of practice was more extensive than a doctor’s. These days a vet. needs to be professionally registered to obtain medications and serve the public, and X-rays are likely to be produced digitally, perhaps augmented with ultrasonic scans, or a CT scanner (as one practice in Christchurch has). With the range of available tests, and research into pet health increasing, a vet’s skills are constantly expanding, leading some vets to evolve from general practice, into more detailed areas. There are now vets specialising in ophthalmology, surgery, internal medicine, dermatology, and reproduction (to name a few); and just like medical specialists, they can only accept cases by referral from vets in general practice.

With pets being more ‘part of the family’ these days, concerns over their well-being have extended from merely keeping them physically productive, to embracing more of their emotional, and relationship health issues. As they fulfill our needs for companionship, or for having an object of affection/caring in the more socially isolated world of today, we are reciprocating by caring for them more like other humans, and the provision of health services to them is becoming more detailed, and wide-ranging; as are human medical services.