Compliant Companions: Fashioning canine veterinary medicine

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


During the middle decades of the twentieth century the veterinary profession was in deep danger and dogs came to the rescue. As horses disappeared, many thought the veterinary profession would do likewise. The noble and useful equine had been the profession’s species of identity and main focus since the start of organised veterinary education. To call a veterinary surgeon a ‘dog doctor’ was considered a professional insult until about the 1930s. In the second half of the century, vets saw and acted upon enormous opportunities in treating dogs (and cats) as companion animal practice expanded into a multi-disciplinary specialty catering for every medical need. The history of British companion animal practice from the 1950s is a dramatic success story of the possibilities of private medicine.

But this could only come about after vets accepted the paw offered them and decided that dogs could, in fact, be considered suitable patients for treatment – ‘suitable’ in the sense that professional status would not be harmed in associating with them. The lead came from out with the organised profession, from pre-war animal welfare charities, notably the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals of the Poor, and their hugely successful networks of clinics and hospitals staffed by internally-trained ‘animal doctors’ (not vets). This showed vets that dog treatment could be possible, successful on a large scale, and could generate great support across all strata of British society. Vets did not lead on the treatment of dogs and other companion animals, they followed.

In this paper, I want to explore how dogs themselves helped make this possible: by their tolerance and compliance to veterinary interventions and by their adaptability in assuming the role of patient and family member, such that companion animal veterinary surgeons assumed a role analogous to the medical paediatrician in a therapeutic triad that successfully blended science, sentiment and the involvement of a non-verbal other.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 26 Jun 2015
EventThe dog in 20th century science - science in the 20th century dog - Centre for the History of Science, Technology and Medicine, Manchester, United Kingdom
Duration: 26 Jun 201526 Jun 2015


ConferenceThe dog in 20th century science - science in the 20th century dog
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Dive into the research topics of 'Compliant Companions: Fashioning canine veterinary medicine'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this