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The emergence of small animal practice in the UK

The 1950s saw many key changes in the veterinary industry, including the spread of x-ray machines, introduction of new medicines, and formation of the BSAVA

18 December 2017, at 5:00pm

There was growing awareness in the 1930s that small animal practice was creating a need for animal hospitals. The concept was attractive, but the initial costs were high and the economy was weak. Most urban practices were either in converted shops or part of the veterinarian’s home; refrigerators and x-ray equipment were rarities and anaesthesia equipment was rudimentary.

In the 1950s, the economy strengthened and these became the formative years for small animal practice in Britain – demand for veterinary services was expanding as pet populations grew, but the downside was the spread of"hardpad", a variant and invariably fatal form of canine distemper. In certain urban areas, contention had also arisen between private practitioners and animal charity clinics. The animal welfare society issue was founded on allegations of frequently poor-quality almoning, unqualified practitioners, and clinics being established in direct competition to veterinary practices.

The BVA was engaged in discussions, but to many hard pressed practices these were ineffectual. The demand for action was increasing.

Codifying products

The British Veterinary Codex, published in 1953, was the first official attempt to codify the pharmaceutical and biological products used in veterinary medicine. The valuable reference work identifies many products that had been in use for generations, listing only those that could be demonstrated to have some therapeutic activity. It also introduced the new generation of antibiotics, chemotherapeutics and vaccines. Veterinary consumption of most of the older products soon ceased and the profession was equipped with an armoury of effective products.

At the beginning of the 1950s, there were very few canine and feline vaccines; the only antibacterials were the various forms of sulphonamides. Ether and chloroform were the anaesthetics. By the end of the decade, penicillin and other antibiotics were available together with new chemotherapeutics, endocrine agents, vaccine products and anaesthetics. Plus, new technology equipment – including x-ray machines – was seen in most practices.

An editorial in The Veterinary Record in 1951 noted the opportunities, as well as the need for specialist small animal practice, but singularly there were no suggestions as to how to help or educate the small animal practitioner.

The London-based Central Veterinary Society was the only forum available for small animal practitioners. An informal group of London practitioners had begun to meet – mostly to exchange information and ideas.

The first practical step was taken by W. R. Wooldridge, the far-sighted veterinarian who founded the Animal Health Trust. In 1947, he established the Canine Health Centre and appointed S. F. J. Hodgman as director, a recognised canine clinician and well-connected in the dog world.

The canine "establishment" had not always been receptive to building a relationship with the veterinary profession. Wooldridge was also the UK representative on the World Veterinary Association (WVA) Permanent Committee: they had decided to sectionalise activities and have one devoted to small animals.

BSAVA’s beginnings

Wooldridge saw an opportunity and talked with Hodgman, who had now been joined by Brian Singleton. The rest is well-known history – Singleton called a meeting in November 1956 and in March 1957, C. E. (Woody) Woodrow was elected the first president of the now British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), with 88 members.

The mission of the BSAVA was clearly defined as “to promote high scientific and educational standards of small animal medicine and surgery in practice, teaching and research”. It was to be apolitical (which upset some early "hot head" members) and soon became affiliated to the BVA, which aided the resolution of the charity clinics issue.

In 1959, Brian Singleton headed a small British team at the WVA Congress in Madrid, and the World Small Animal Veterinary Association was created. Today, the WSAVA has a membership of some 158,000 in 98 countries.

BSAVA has never looked back. With annual congresses since 1958, together with its publications and CPD programmes, the association is now a major force in the British veterinary structure. With a membership of about 10,000, BSAVA can truly celebrate 2017, its diamond anniversary year.