Veterinary anthropology can also be understood as the medical anthropological study of systems of animal sickness, health, and healing. Or the study of animal health, healing and healers using an anthropological lens.
Veterinary anthropology considers how culture and society are organised around, and influenced by issues of animal illness, health and animal healthcare systems. Veterinary systems and society evolve together interdependently. For example, since the 1960s the rise in pet keeping in more urban industrialised regions has forced the veterinary industries to propritise dogs and cats in its work and now focuses less on animals of production like cows and sheep. However, verterinarians in areas still reliant on subsistance farming are mainly treating these production animals. Therefore, veterinary systems are culture-bound, geographically distinct and diachronically relative. Normal practices and beliefs in one region may be unknown or inappropriate in another depending on society’s relationship to, and attitudes about, different animal species.
Similarly, but with respect to humans, the field of Medical Anthropology draws upon social, cultural, biological, and linguistic anthropology to better understand the factors which influence health and well being, the experience and distribution of illness, the prevention and treatment of sickness, healing processes, the social relations of therapy management, and the cultural importance and utilization of pluralistic medical systems. The discipline of medical anthropology draws upon many different theoretical approaches, medical systems, and geographical sites. Medical anthropologists examine how the health of individuals, larger social formations, and the environment are affected by interrelationships between humans and other species; cultural norms and social institutions; micro and macro politics; and forces of globalization as each of these affects local worlds.
This summary of the field of medical anthropology can illustrate how using similar types of inquiry into animal health and healing, both traditional, local and the present day institution of alopathic veterinary science, can be very useful. This related but separate discipline is called Veterinary Anthropology.
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Continue on to read about the first academic meeting on veterinary anthropology.