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Small animal practice - the first specialists

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01 May 2017, at 1:00am

BRUCE VIVASH JONES continues his series on the history of the profession, this time highlighting the work of two vets who have the distinction of being the first to develop branches of veterinary medicine

IN THE LATE 1700S, TWO MEN of widely different origins were born, but they were destined to meet with a common interest: small animal practice. Delabere Pritchett Blaine (1770- 1845) and William Youatt (1776-1847) were a unique pairing. They were a formidable combination who for four years in London conducted one of the largest veterinary practices in the country. Blaine started his professional life in medicine, worked at the then new Camden Town College for a while, had a somewhat changeable life for several years, but did produce some veterinary books before moving back to London to establish a veterinary practice, finally moving to 8 Wells Street, Oxford Street. His most important books were Outlines of the Veterinary Art (1801) and Canine Pathology (1817). William Youatt was the son of a non-conformist minister and initially educated to enter the Ministry. His early life is something of a mystery, but in 1812, aged about 36 years he met Blaine and joined his London practice as a pupil. This was late in life to start a new career, but he had obvious talent. He also studied under Edward Coleman at the London Veterinary College, but had to leave before he qualified because of the bad relationship between Blaine and Coleman. The highly successful Blaine/Youatt partnership only lasted between 1813 and 1817. The two men had separate premises, Blaine at Wells Street and Youatt quite close at 3 Nassau Street, by Middlesex Hospital. Seeing some 2,000 to 3,000 dogs a year, it is no exaggeration to state that this was the beginning of small animal practice in Britain. Blaine retired in 1817 and commended his partner to his clients, saying the pupil had outstripped the master. The practice was based in horses and dogs, but it was in the latter species where Youatt’s real interest lay. While a late entrant to veterinary medicine, he developed an interest in the scientific study of diseases of all animals. Later he was to become a major veterinary author. Youatt’s dominant interest arising from his practice work was canine rabies; he had probably studied more cases than anybody else, kept practice records, read widely and conducted an immense correspondence. In 1830 he entered into an agreement with the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge and from 1831 published through them a series of volumes on the history, breeds and diseases of animals. That on the dog first appeared in 1845, was re-issued over 25 times and is still available today.

Leading authority

Becoming the leading authority on canine rabies in the early 1800s, Youatt published a pamphlet – On Canine Madness – in 1830 (a reprint of papers he had published in The Veterinarian). He followed the work of Blaine and tried to counter popular and professional errors. He stated “rabies is produced by inoculation alone” and that “the virus is confined to the saliva”. In spite of this some “authorities” up to the 1880s were still writing of spontaneous generation. As a recognised authority, Youatt in giving evidence to a Parliamentary Committee in March 1838 said: “In my
opinion rabies is produced by the saliva of a rabid dog, usually introduced into the system by means of a bite” – a statement as accurate today as it was then. In this early to mid-1800s period, the importance of veterinary pet practice became recognised as the frequent outbreaks of rabies demanded effective means of control, in particular a serious rabies epizootic in 1885-6. In 1885, under the Metropolitan Police Act 1867, the first of the Muzzling Orders were issued which required all dogs on public streets to be
either muzzled or on a lead. If not they were to be taken to a dogs’ home and then euthanased if not collected. This started to gain control over the disease and in 1902 rabies was declared to be
eradicated in Britain, although a few cases did occur after this date. Of Youatt’s practice work it is his interest in rabies which dominates, but he also left possibly the first attempts to classify and enumerate canine disease incidence. He published a summary in 1835. Skin diseases were a major part of the clinical cases; he noted the incidence increased with the temperature rise, being most serious in August. Mange in various forms was diagnosed, but usually the topical medications available were unsuccessful. Distemper was noted as a disease with the greatest prevalence in spring and autumn. Rabies cases appeared to be unrelated to weather or season. Of other diseases, goitre is mentioned (he was the first to use iodine in the treatment of affected dogs) and also “worms”. “Rheumatism” was a frequent diagnosis with many cases resulting in partial paralysis of the hind limbs. “Asthma” was diagnosed, usually in the late spring and treated by emetics. The Youatt practice at Nassau Street had standard fees: for consultation the range was 3s.6d. (18p) to 5s. (25p) per dog including medicines, but after the first consultation only medicines
were charged. Home visits were charged at 5s. if within two miles of Nassau Street with 3s.6d. per visit for follow-ups. Consultation by letter was 7s. and 5s. for succeeding letters. The hospital charges varied from 5s. to 10s.6d per day depending on size, condition or according “to the trouble which it gives”! Youatt even opened his own school at Nassau Street and was allowed to deliver lectures at the new London University in Gower Street. These classes prospered but then, aged 55 his health broke down; by 1834 the school was disbanded. In 1835 he took on a partner, J. A. Ainsley, and retired from the practice in 1838. From that date he spent his time writing books and papers. Blaine and Youatt were the dominating presence in early small animal practice, not only because of their demonstrable competence, but because they both recorded their studies in books and clinical papers. As a result of their efforts a recognised small animal practice structure developed, initially associated with equine practice in the major conurbations.