October 01, 2015


 1945 - 1955

Posted Sept. 16, 2015
Updated Oct. 15, 2015

With servicemen back home and the G.I. Bill recently enacted, veterinary education flourished, with seven new veterinary schools established from 1945-1951 alone, making a total of 17.

“At the present, there are nearly 4,000 students studying veterinary medicine in the U.S. Ten years ago, there were only about half this number and twenty years ago, only about one fourth. The impact of these 4,000 students upon a profession which numbers only about 15,000 will shortly become evident. The graduates will be quickly and easily absorbed for a few years, but it is obvious that, if this rate is maintained, the number of veterinarians in the country is destined to increase rapidly during the next few years. The present shortage may very well change quickly to an actual surplus,” wrote Dr. William A. Hagan in a May 1952 article.

In 1945, a new national policy was just being initiated to provide increased federal support of science. The AVMA, for its part, started raising money for an AVMA Research Fund to be devoted to the study of animal disease problems. The money was used to award fellowships to “promising veterinarians who wish to go into graduate work and eventually teaching and research.” Some areas suggested for study were on anesthetics and their action in animals, hypoglycemia in swine, absorption from the gastrointestinal tract of ruminants, and arthritis in the horse. 

Canned dog food became popular immediately preceding World War II and continuing thereafter. According to a May 1947 JAVMA article, "A typical canned dog food is composed of meat, meat by-products, bone, cereals, soybean flour, salt, and fish-liver oil." Notably, the AVMA and American Animal Hospital Association created a dog food–testing program in the early 1940s as an attempt to solve some of the "undesirable" conditions existing in the dog food industry; however, critics called it a meaningless project without authority and worthless because the large manufacturers did not support it.

At the same time, the use of laboratory animals began to expand rapidly with the influx of research funding, creating a host of problems as well as challenges. Few veterinarians were devoting themselves to laboratory animal care, which was not yet recognized as a special field. Plus, institutions were ill-prepared to accommodate increasingly large animal colonies. Simultaneously, researchers came under increasingly vigorous attack from antivivisectionists whose objective was to stop or limit animal research.

AVMA Editor L.A. Merillat wrote in a July 1949 editorial, “Recent state legislation against dog stealing ... has been labeled a propaganda trick of the antivivisection cult by Dr. Anton J. Carlson, president of the National Society for Medical Research. Dr. Carlson said, ‘It seems impossible that any one could believe that universities, state, and city health departments, and great hospitals would sponsor thievery.’ ... The only reason for the introduction of these bills has been to provide a springboard for fanatic charges by the antivivisectionists against medical and veterinary institutions.”

The profession was also grappling with laypersons performing traditional veterinary services, particularly artificial insemination.  

“AI has grown into a tremendous business in ten years and is considered one of the greatest contributions offered to the dairy cattle-breeding program. In the early days, veterinarians ignored this work, and during the war years they did not have time to take hold of it. ... The cold fact remains that few veterinarians are actively identified with this program,” wrote Dr. John B. Herrick in “Trespassing and poaching on veterinary practice” in September 1949.

This decade also saw the first veterinary specialty organization recognized by the AVMA, which was the American College of Veterinary Pathologists, organized in Chicago in December 1948.

In 1950, AVMA President C.P. Zepp Sr. mentioned several other trends he felt would affect the veterinary profession, including “the rapid development of preventive medicine ... (and) of therapeutic agents and their distribution to laymen ... the increased practice of veterinary medicine by humane organizations under the guise of preventing cruelty ... (and) the socialistic trend of society.”

That same year, Dr. Merillat retired as editor of AVMA publications and was succeeded by Dr. R.C. Klussendorf; however, he resigned the following year and was succeeded temporarily by Dr. C.R. Donham, followed by Dr. W.A. Aitken, who was appointed editor-in-chief in 1952.

An article in September 1950 titled “The world situation and the veterinarian” talked about the necessary planning for the Korean War. The author didn’t want to repeat mistakes of WWII, including duplication of food inspection efforts with civilians and not having enough veterinarians in place in the military while also having poor distribution of civilian veterinarians for essential services in communities throughout the country.


Foot-and-mouth disease outbreak and the Aftosa Commission

A foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Mexico started when the Mexican government allowed two shipments of zebu cattle from Brazil into the country—one in October 1945 and another in May 1946. The U.S. Department of Agriculture then received confirmation that foot-and-mouth disease was found in Mexican livestock in December 1946.

Importation of Mexican cattle into the U.S. was halted immediately. By then, FMD had spread to nine Mexican states and Mexico City, according to a 1947 JAVMA article.

A bill signed into law shortly after that authorized the U.S. secretary of agriculture to cooperate with Mexico in combating the disease. This led to the creation of the Mexican-American Commission for the Eradication of Aftosa Fever. A number of Army Veterinary Corps members were part of the commission. They vaccinated cattle in rural areas, sometimes with protection from the Mexican Army. Ranchers occasionally attacked the veterinarians when they killed infected cattle, so the commission had a song composed to explain the program to the people. Commission members earned the nickname “cow killers.”

The Aftosa Commission’s efforts lasted until the mid-1950s. The U.S. never saw any reported FMD cases.



Correction: The name of Dr. C.R. Donham, who served as AVMA editor-in-chief on an interim basis from 1951-1952, was misspelled in a previous version of this story.