Though vets are on the front lines of animal welfare concerns at all levels of animal husbandry and care, some savvy vet-watchers think vets care less about animal welfare than most people might assume.

That’s because the American Veterinary Medical Association (the leading professional organization in veterinary medicine) has visibly denied animals their due on a series of important animal welfare initiatives. For example, recently in the news:

  • Foie gras production
  • Non-economic damages on malpractice claims
  • Antibiotics used for growth promotion in livestock

Yet in the last issue of the JAVMA (Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association), I see plenty of reason for these careful observers of all things animal welfare to rejoice.

Out of fourteen non-medical articles and blurbs, ten dealt with issues surrounding the welfare of animals.

It’s a definite trend. I see more discussion and more debate on these issues than on any single other issue in veterinary medicine. That’s a huge shift from how things were even five years ago.

On cue, DVM Newsmagazine featured an article this month (on the cover, no less) on this issue. Titled, “A house divided?” the article dealt with the disparity in the welfare-mindedness of companion animal and agriculture-oriented vets.

It riffed on the age-old divide between the two camps’ ways of thinking, even raising the so-tired, livestock vet complaint of small animal vets “sticking their stethoscopes where they don’t belong” when weighing in on agricultural animal welfare issues in policy-affecting settings.

There’s certainly some truth to the notion that strong animal welfare philosophies are more closely held by those vets who don’t deal in livestock. But maybe there’s a cause an effect relationship there somewhere.

I mean, why would any self-respecting animal welfare-minded vet practice large animal medicine in 2008 given the state of the animal agriculture industry? Only the most idealistic of souls would venture into changing the way of the world of agriculture by practicing medicine in this stressful milieu.

But what does this say about the more welfare-centric state of veterinary affairs? Is the AVMA shifting towards a greater recognition of animal welfare principles because there are fewer large animal vets out there? Is the small-animal minded vet population finally speaking out in tones loud enough to drown out the livestock contingency? 

Or perhaps this is another one of those generational issues in veterinary medicine. Can what we’re witnessing now simply be the result of a greater adoption of animal welfare principles in our culture?