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Guest Blog: 50 years of veterinary care

Veterinary medicine has made great advances in the past 50 years, you only have to watch programmes like ‘The Supervet’ to be truly amazed at the things that can be achieved to help our pets nowadays. 

However, a vet practice in the 1970s looked very different to today; X-rays were the only form of diagnostic imaging available to pets, and flea treatments were widely ineffective!

Here at NAWT, every animal that comes in to our care is given a full veterinary check upon admission, which is followed up by any necessary treatment.

Student vet Sophie Griffin looks back at what progress has been made in veterinary medicine over the last five decades…

1970s and 80s

The first imaging tool to come after the x-ray was ultrasound. It started to have a veterinary use in universities in the 1970s, but it took another ten years before ultrasounds were regularly seen in practice.

Ultrasounds are incredibly useful for vets. They can be used to see a real-time image inside an animal, and normally the animal does not need to be sedated. They are commonly used to look at internal organs such as the heart, kidneys, and bladder.

In the 1980s, people still had great trouble controlling fleas in their homes. It wasn’t until 1989, when scientists discovered that fleas feed off of our animals’ blood, that ground-breaking treatments started to be developed. 

1990s

In the early 90s, Lufenuron was released, a drug against fleas that went into pets’ bloodstreams, and was therefore highly effective at eliminating the creatures. Finally, people had a way to get rid of fleas in their family homes.

CT scanners have been seen in human medicine since the 70s, but were not mainstream in veterinary hospitals until the 90s. CT scans have revolutionised how vets treat joint problems, as well as soft tissue structures, such as the lungs and abdominal contents.

The speed of a CT scan also means that animals can often just be sedated, rather than having to undergo full anaesthesia.

2000s

Before 2000, MRI machines were not really heard of in veterinary medicine. The machines started to appear in veterinary hospitals in the 2000s – before that, there are stories of animals being snuck into human hospitals to get their MRI scans!

MRIs have been crucial in helping to treat problems with the brain and spinal cord, such as masses in the brain and spinal disc issues.

2010s

The past decade has seen a surge in veterinary developments. Key-hole surgery (laparoscopy) has been used in human medicine for many decades, however it wasn’t used in veterinary medicine until the 2010s.

The first use of key-hole surgery was reported by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland in 2011, when it was used to remove gallbladders from moon bears!

Laparoscopy is a real advancement in veterinary medicine, as the tiny incisions are a lot less invasive and so cause your pet less discomfort. A tiny camera is used so that the surgeon can see inside the body to do a procedure, and it gives a better visualisation of the organs, as well as less chance of bleeding. You will commonly hear about vets using key-hole surgery for spays, or to collect internal organ biopsies.

3D printing has made its way into the veterinary world in the last five years or so. Accurate 3D printed models of structures such as bones can help vets to visualise surgeries. 3D printers have also been used to create replacement parts in pets’ joints!

In the past decade, cancer treatments for our animals have taken leaps and bounds.

Chemotherapy is now available and interventional surgeries are now much more commonplace. Work is constantly ongoing to see how we can use human medicine techniques to treat our beloved pets.

Prosthetics are another area of veterinary medicine that has seen a lot of development over the past ten years. Where legs used to be amputated or pets put to sleep, we are now seeing state-of-the-art prosthetics being used to replace limbs and give a pet a new lease of life.

2020 and beyond

The way we care for our pets has been completely transformed in the past 50 years – where will veterinary medicine go next?

We live in a world where virtual is the new normal. Telemedicine is not new, but it is thought that the future of vet consultations could be through a screen.

In 2019, Voice of the Veterinary Community asked pet owners “If your vet offered telemedicine, would that increase the number of visits to the vet?”, 56% of the 501 participants said yes, but only 37% of vets in the survey said telemedicine was something they offered. Maybe virtual consults will be something we see a lot more of in the future.

There are many innovations in sight for veterinary practice. One of these new technologies is wearable devices. These would track vital signs such as pulse, pH levels, body temperature and more – think of something like a “smart collar”.

DNA testing could also come into its own in the veterinary world. Pre-emptive testing for genetic diseases could change how we treat our animals and enable us to provide better care for them.

So, it’s safe to say there have been many vital veterinary developments in the past 50 years, and it seems there are many more to come!

This article was written by student vet Sophie Griffin, under the supervision of Dr Joanna Woodnutt MRCVS, veterinarian at The Veterinary Content Company.

We would like to thank all NAWT supporters for their generous donations, which allow us to be able to provide essential veterinary treatment for animals that come in to our centres. If you’d like to help, please visit our donate page.