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History of Veterinary Anatomy *

 G.K. Singh and R.S. Chauhan

College of Veterinary Sciences, G.B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology,

Pantnagar – 263 145 (Uttaranchal) India.

*(Article originally appeared in Advances in Veterinary Anatomy. 2001. Edited by Dr. GK Singh and Dr. RS Chauhan)

                 Anatomy is a basic subject of veterinary curriculum which deals with normal architecture of the body including both gross and microscopic features of a normal individual. Thus, it forms a sound basis for proper understanding of other preclinical and clinical subjects specially physiology, pathology, surgery, gynecology, medicine, meat science and paves way for learning clinical techniques for proper diagnosis and treatments of various ailments. Modern science developed and perpetuated after the 19th century but the knowledge of anatomy existed much before particularly in ancient India. A retrospect in ancient Indian culture candidly reveals the glorious past of Medical and Veterinary Sciences in India. The ancient Indians were forerunners in science; however, the accurate records of that time are difficult to discover due to peculiar system of passing information from generation to generation through oral discourses. Whatever information is available is inscribed in ‘Sanskrit’ language which, unfortunately, has lost popularity in the developing society in this era. Yet we have tried our best to cite the old literature from authentic sources such as Vedas, Samhitas, Ramayana, Mahabharata, etc. which command global esteem.

                In ancient India, the medical and veterinary sciences are described in ‘Ayurveda’ which has been divided into four disciplines as under:

  1. Virkchayurveda for plants
  2. Tiryagayurveda for living beings such as reptiles, wild animals.
  3. Gavayurved, Ashwahyurveda, Hatsyayurveda for cattle, horses and elephants.
  4. Ayurveda for human beings.

                Ayurveda is the science of life which aims to protect the health of a healthy person and to remove the diseases. The ancient literature describes emergence of Dhanwantari carrying “Amrit Kalash” through churning of the sea. He is considered as ‘God’ of Ayurveda. This Amrit, the divine medicinal preparation is considered to safeguard the ‘Devtas’ against death, diseases and aging. The period of Dhanwantari is Kartik Krishna Triyodashi 2500 BC. He described the Ayurveda into 8 chapters including ‘Shalya’ means surgery and ‘Kaya Chikitsa’ means Anatomy. The Kashyap Samhita, a treatise on medicine written by Maharshi Kashyap described ailments of various organs and systems of body in a question answer pattern. This book was revised by Jeevak, a renounced medical practitioner as “Vridha Jeevakiya Tantra” comprising of 8 parts including “Shalya (Surgery) and Sharirik (Anatomical) Chikitsa which is known as “Ashtang Ayurveda”. This publication contains 200 chapters on various aspects such as diagnosis, therapy, anatomy, physiology etc. This book is available in National Library of Nepal.

                The descriptions of Ayurveda are given in Atharveda which mention the practice of dissecting animals after ritual sacrifice in order to learn body structures. During the epic period, Acharyas educated princes on the selection of horses and elephants. The study of the structure of animal, normal/abnormal was given due importance and discussed in relevance to its application.

                In the history of veterinary science, Shalihotra (2350 BC) is considered as first known veterinarian of the world who wrote ‘Shalihotra Samhita’ having 12000 shlokas in Sanskrit. He described equine and elephant anatomy, physiology, surgery and diseases with their curative and preventive measures. He elaborated on the structures of body of different races of horses. He was well versed with the structural details by which one can determine the age of horse. In the year 1800 BC ‘Muni Palkapya’ wrote ‘Hasti Ayurveda’ covering all aspects of elephant medicine. This book has four sections and 152 chapters including on structural details of elephants. During Mahabharat period (1000-900 BC), Nakul was considered as equine expert while Sahdev was specialist in cattle management. They were very much familiar with various anatomical details of the cows and horses, and to treat them specially after injury during the wars. In Agnipurana, descriptions of sensory organs have been made as sarota (ear), twac (skin), chakshus (eyes), jivha (tongue) and ‘ghrana’ (nose).

                Acharya Sushrut (600 BC) one of the best Surgeon had written a book known as ‘Sushrut Samhita’. There were 5 sections in this book including anatomy, diagnosis, treatment etc. He had described various instruments to open and examine the body. He conducted several surgical operations of cataract, and ceresious. Many such instruments of surgery are in use even today. He divided the human body as head, trunk, fore and hind limbs.

                Jeevak (500 BC) operated cranium of the then finance minister (Nagar Seth) of Samrat Bimbisar and successfully removed the pus and clot of blood. One can easily imagine the depth of anatomical knowledge he had. Possibly it will be the first brain surgery in the history. He also operated intestines to remove tumor of another Nagar Seth of Varanasi. He removed the damaged portion of intestines and again sutured them successfully. He also treated Budha.

                Alcameon (500 BC), a Greek physician carried out dissections on animals and for the first time save the optic nerve and auditory tube. Hippocrates (460-370 BC), a great Greek physician of all times propounded that all living bodies are made up of four humour, the sangnis (blood), cholera (yellow bile), melancholia (black bile) and pituita (phlegm) and that health depends on mixing of these humours in proper proportion. Aristotle (384-322 BC) a Greek Philosopher and biologist established his own academy called Lyceum and made extensive studies on marine life. He produced four major treatise namely ‘On Psyche’, ‘Histories about animals’, ‘On the generation of animals’ and ‘On the parts of animals’. He studied anatomical structures of 50 species of domestic animals. His major contributions are absence of gall bladder in horse and descriptions of different parts of digestive tract including four compartments of ruminant stomach. He had written four books on parts of animals. He conducted several post-mortem examination of animals and is considered founder of ‘Comparative Anatomy’. Herophilus of Alexandria of Egypt (290 BC) has been considered as “Father of Medical Anatomy”. He established the difference among artery, vein and nerve and recognized brain as an organ of thinking. He described nervous system, eyes, liver and reproductive organs. He also gave the name retina and duodenum. Erasistratus (220 BC) is credited as ‘Father of Medical Physiology’. He differentiated between motor and sensory nerves and formulated primitive ideas about functioning of blood vessels. He also described the terms parenchyma for the substance of an organ.

                Charak, a renowned medical practitioner had written a treatise known as ‘Charak Samhita’ during 300-500 AD in Gupta Vansh period. He is considered one of the highest honoured scientists of Ayurveda. He developed various Ayurveda preparations to make man strong.

                Acharya Sharangdhar (1300 AD) was considered specialist of pulse (Nari Shastra) which is not possible without the knowledge of anatomy. He has also written two books namely ‘Sharangdhar Samhita’ and ‘Sharangdhar Padhati’.

                Claudius Galen (130-210 AD) learned anatomy at Alexandria Medical School and wrote a book on medical anatomy on the basis of the structures of animals such as sheep, dog, bear, pig and ox. Though his main purpose was to study human anatomy yet his investigations became landmarks in Veterinary Anatomy. He could recognize the resemblances between man and monkeys. He gave a good description of muscles, bones and joints. Leonardo-da-Vinci (1452-1519) conducted dissection on human body and described various structures. He invented the techniques of paraffin embedding and casting of body cavities. He prepared wax cast of heart and brain ventricles. Albrech Direr formed several anatomical sketches of body proportions while Pierre Belon described the anatomy of fish and marine mammals. Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564) wrote a book De Humani Corporis Fabrica in 1543 which contained illustrations and comprehensive description of human body. He described skull as the first some and compared human skull with that of dog.

                An Italian anatomist and surgeon Hieronymus Fabricius described valves in veins and development of embryo during 1533-1619. He had published “De Venarum Ostiolis” and “De Formatu Foetus”. He was the teacher of William Harvey who had a great vision of comparative anatomy, physiology and embryology. He published his monumental work on circulation of blood in 1628. He was great proponent of ovist theory of preformation and gave the concept of continuity of life “Omnevivum exovo” in 1651. In 1598, Carlo Ruini published a book on anatomy of horse. It was first comprehensive book on anatomy of horse in modern era. This book made the beginning of modern veterinary science. During 16th century several scientists including G. Aselli, J. Vesling, J. Pecquet, T. Bartholin and O. Rudback were involved in the discovery of lymphatic system. An in depth study of anatomical facts began with the efforts of Dutch spectacles markers Janssen and Janssen who are credited with building first successful microscope in 1590.

                Joham Jacob Wepfer (1622-1674) first correctly described the course and branching of the carotid artery by injecting the vessels of brain with saffron water.

                During 1628-1694, Marcello Malpighi investigated microscopic structures of body using simple microscope. His most significant contributions were on anatomy and physiology of lungs. He forwarded the ‘Doctrine of Preformation’. The capillary nexus between arteries and veins, circulation of blood and air flow in lung was described by Malpighi. Various other scientists in 17th century made remarkable contributions including R. Graff described the Graffian follicle, T. willis described the anatomy of brain, N. Grew investigated the anatomy of stomach and gut; Andrew Snape Jr. described anatomy of horse and G. Blaes reported the anatomy of dog. Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723) for the first time examined human spermatozoa under microscope and coined the term ‘animal cule’. He demonstrated the presence o capillaries and described red blood corpuscular morphology of fist, frog and man. He gave an excellent account of muscles, lens, teeth, skin and many other organs. Robert Hooke (1635-1703) dedicated himself to microscopic studies and published a book ‘Micrographia’ in 1665. While studying the microscopic structure of cork, he for the first time used the term ‘cell’ in the ambit of biology. Jan Swammerdam (1637-1680) worked on anatomy of snail, clam and squid, development of frog and contraction of muscles. He successfully injected the vessels with wax using finally drown not glass tubes and mounted in turpentine to achieve better visibility. He also described red blood corpuscles of frog in 1658. Robert Boyle’s experiment to place pants or even whole animal in spirit opened up ten era of animal preservation without a change in colour.

                John Hunter (1728-1793) is considered innovative anatomist, described various methods of comparative anatomy. He was skilled carpenter and his innovative anatomical preparations are still preserved in the Huntarian museum of London. Bonnet (1745) described the phenomenon of partherugenesis. Kasper F. Wolff (1733-1794) disproved the concept of preformation of Malpighi and advocated a new theory of ‘epigenesis’. In 1762, Claude Bourgelat established a veterinary school at Lyons in France for the study of anatomy and diseases of domestic animals mainly involving horse.

                In 1766 George Stubbs wrote a book on anatomy with very good illustrations of skeleton and other superficial structures like muscles. G.B. Morgagni (1682-1771) established a new structural relationship of diseases, its signs and symptoms with affected organs. Cuvier (1969-1832) stressed on the principle of correlation of parts of animal body. He studied the fossils of elephants, other mammals and reptiles. D. Blaine in 1799 published a book on anatomy of horse and propagated the importance of veterinary anatomy in clinical practice in England. He was a medical physician and later became veterinarian. He also published another book on outlines of veterinary art which was widely read and published into many editions. Bichat (1771-1801) championed in pathological anatomy. The studied several hundred bodies and classified the tissues into 21 types in 1800. He is credited as ‘Father of Histology’.

                William Percivall in 1832 published first systematic text on the anatomy of horse in English. He also started the publication the journal “Veterinarian”. Own (1804-1894) dissected a large number of animals including marsupalia and monotremata. He introduced the concept of ‘Analogy’ and ‘Homology’ in anatomy. Pander (1817) studied the formation of 3 germ layers in chick embryos and supported the theory of epigenesis. The study was extended by Karle Ernst Von Baer (1828) to all vertebrates. He presented the knowledge of embryology in coherent form and gave certain generalizations designated as ‘Baer’s Law’. He is known as ‘Father of Modern Embryology’. Provosts and Dumas (1824) first described the process of cleavage in frog’s egg. In 1859 Charles Darwin published ‘The origin of species” which was considered most significant work in the field of comparative anatomy.

                In 1838, T. Schwann along with M.J. Scheiden gave the cell theory, Schwann published a book “Microscopic investigations on the accordance in the structure and growth of plants and animals” in 1839. He discovered the stripped muscles of upper eosophagus and Schwann cells of peripheral nervous system. He also recognized the cellular nature of egg while Schweigger-Seidel and St. George recognized the cellular nature of spermatozoa. Ernst Hackel published a book “Generelle Morphologie” in 1866. He is best known for his ‘Theory of Recapitulation’. Wilhem Roux (1850-1924) a student of Haeckel devoted himself to the cause of experimental embryology. He is credited as ‘Father of Experimental Embryology”.

                In the year 1882 the Anatomical society was formed in Germany which included the natural scientists and physicians. The Anatomical Society of Great Britain was established in 1887 followed by American Association of Anatomists in 1888 and L’ Association des Anatomistes in 1889. The first issue of ‘Der Anatomischer Anzeiger’ was published in 1886 and the first International Conference of Anatomists was held in Geneva in 1905. Felix Vicq-d' Azyr investigated limbs and teeth anatomy of mammals. In 1855-57 an eminent French Jean-Baptise wrote a book on comparative anatomy of domestic animals which was subsequently translated in English by G. Fleming in 1873. In 19th century, another excellent book “Handbook of Comparative Anatomy of Domestic Animals” was written by several anatomist including William Ellenberger (1848-1929) and Hernan Baum (1864-1932). The 18th edition of this book was published in 1943.

                William Stewart Halsted (1852-1922), an eminent surgeon opined that the major discoveries related to clinical subjects were possible because investigators had accurate knowledge of anatomy. While J.E. Purkinje described the cells of nervous system and conduction system of heart, J.T. Share-Jones, first Professor of Veterinary Anatomy in University of Liver poor published a series of volumes on the surgical anatomy of the horse during 1906-1924. Septimus Sission (1865-1924) of Ohio State University, USA used 25% formalin as embalming fluid in 1901 and published “Text book of Veterinary Anatomy in 1910. This book was furthered by James D. Grossman (1884-1961) who also modified the embalming fluid to contain 10% formalin in 1914. This book was further edited by Robert Getty as “Sisson and Grossman’s The Anatomy of Domestic Animals” with Indian contribution by N. Ghosal and B.S. Nanda. In 1954 Richard Nickel, August Schumer and Eugen Siefrele published a book in German on anatomy of domestic animals in five volumes.

                “A guide to the dissection of the dog” was published in 1947 by Malcolm Miller. Thereafter, he had also written another book on ‘Anatomy of dog’ in 1964. Later James D. Grossman prepared “Students’ Guide to Anatomy of the Camel” in 1960 which was published by ICAR. The monumental work of HN Chelva Iyenger and KR Alur was published as “Anatomy of Ox” by ICAR in 1964. D. Mariappa conducted comprehensive work on elephant anatomy and prepared a text. Two South African Scientists, M.M.S. Smuts and A.J. Bezuidenhout published ‘Anatomy of Dromedary’ in 1987. The first meeting of Indian Veterinary Anatomists was held in 1983 at Madras Veterinary College under the organizing skills of V.K. Seshadri and P.S. Lalitha. It lead to the formation of “Indian Association of Veterinary Anatomists”, which also started the publication of its journal “Indian Journal of Veterinary Anatomy” in 1989. Besides, many Indian authors had published several text including ‘Primary Veterinary Anatomy’ by R. Ghosh and Colour Atlas of Buffals Anatomy by Harcharan Singh and K.S Roy. Drs. V. Ramkrishna and K.M. Gadre of Biden Veterinary College published a book “A Systematic Histology of Domestic Animals” in 1998.

                As for as Indian scenario is concerned, there is a great need to carryout research work on our indigenous animals. Most of the research on anatomy is directed towards the studies on exotic / crossbreed animals. The anatomical details of Indian Zebu cattle are to be investigated particularly in relation to hump and dewlap which clearly differentiate them from exotic breeds. The Indian cattle is quite refractory to various disease conditions in comparison to exotic/crossbreds/buffaloes which is evident under field conditions or available epidemiological data. However, this aspect needs a detailed investigation as to how these animals show so much resistance to various infections. Various products of indigenous cows are considered better than those of exotic/crossbred/buffaloes such as milk, urine, dung particularly in reference to increased awareness towards their therapeutic use. It needs a detailed investigation as it appears to be related with anatomical differences present in Indian Zebu cows. Ontogeny of specific and paraspecific immune system of buffaloes and goats with reference to Indian conditions should be studied. The studies on elemental concentration of skin cells and/or hairs of domestic animals particularly for differentiation of species of cattle and buffaloes or other animals will be of much interest for forensic people.  The researches should also be directed towards the applied aspect of anatomy in addition to traditional knowledge of anatomy. In 21st century, most of the services are looking privatization and veterinary profession is no exception. The graduates should be prepared in such a way that they will compete in the privatization era of the world.


Habel RE. 1985. Anatomy post, present, future. Connell Vet. 75: 27.

Singh Jit, Ram Kumar V and Gurdial Singh. 2001. Veterinary Anatomy A historical perspective. Livestock International. 5:18-23.

Chauhan RS. 2001. Medical Science in ancient India. Shekchhik Chetna. 5: 79-81.

Wolf RG. 1991. Functional Chordate Anatomy. D.C. Health’s & Co. Lexington.

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