Editors' Guest: There isn't much of a market for buggy whips


Editors' Guest: There isn't much of a market for buggy whips

Jan 01, 2012

Draft horses Monty and Prince make a delivery from the brewery—a once commonplace service. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Paul)
About 100 years ago, veterinarians were playing a death knell for the profession as they knew it. Veterinary medicine's foundation rested on equine practice, and internal combustion engine development signaled an end to horse-drawn vehicles. With no horses to care for, what would veterinarians do for a living?

Fortunately for us, our predecessors reinvented the profession to focus on production and companion animals. But in the following years, several farming and production changes have all but eliminated the family farm as a viable industry. Swine, poultry, and beef and dairy cattle production have largely become the purview of consolidated farming and reduced the number of veterinarians in production medicine. Increasingly, these veterinarians have shifted their services from treating individual animals to providing herd health services and consultation. Those who have failed to adapt have struggled and become less relevant.

During this time, companion-animal medicine prospered. The strengthening human-animal bond and change in the role of dogs and cats in society led to greater educational emphasis on companion-animal care. The understanding and treatment of diseases, increased development of vaccines, advances in parasite control, and advent of professional specialization have resulted in a healthier and better-cared-for pet population.


Veterinarians primarily provide diagnostic services, therapeutic care, pharmaceutical and nutritional products, and information. With the advent of alternative electronic sources for these services, veterinary medicine is again faced with our own version of the internal combustion engine—the Internet and a fragmented profession. In the past, pet owners sought advice, information, care, and products primarily from their veterinarians. The veterinarian was a resource and a friend. Unfortunately, that relationship has been eroded in no small part because of the rising complexity and cost of veterinary care.

With the universality of the Internet, pet owners can now obtain information about problems that once took them to their veterinarians for answers. From the Internet, pet owners learn that many minor illnesses will resolve without treatment, and many more can be managed with modest intervention such as antidiarrheals, antihistamines, and dietary control. The result is a lack of client-veterinarian interaction along with a demonstration that the pet seemingly didn't need the veterinarian. In many cases, veterinarians see only significant problems, and those patients are then frequently referred to a specialist for care. This leads to a mistaken perception that clients can eliminate their interactions with primary care veterinarians and go directly to specialists.