Here at Cornell, knowledge of breeds is considered a necessary part of a veterinarian’s job. Every student is required to study and complete an examination on animal breeds during their first year. This study is not limited to breeds of dogs or even to breeds of a student’s area of interest. The required study encompasses breeds of cats, dogs, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and cows. There might even be some required chicken knowledge thrown into the mix if I remember correctly!
Knowledge of breeds is an essential part of our knowledge base for multiple reasons. First, the health considerations that vary between breeds are very important. For example, doing preoperative bloodwork for a Doberman Pinscher is extremely important due to their genetic predisposition for von Willebrand’s disease, a disease that inhibits the body’s ability to clot blood and prevent bleeding. If someone tells me a Holstein cow has been a little lame lately, I will suspect some hoof problems. Anyone who works with Holsteins knows that they do not have the most healthy hooves when it comes to cattle!
Aside from health considerations, knowledge of breeds allows us to connect with our clients. It can be so comforting for a client who owns an unusual breed of animal to know that their veterinarian is familiar with that specific breed, its health considerations, its life history, and its behavioral tendencies. I can recall the surprised and relieved look on the faces of owners as I complimented them on their beautiful Treeing Walker Coonhound, or their Shire draft horse, or their Lippitt Morgan horse. To be honest, it is always a far reach when asking an owner if their Morgan horse is a Lippitt Morgan, but I have never seen an owner be disappointed that I considered their horse beautiful enough to possibly be a Lippitt!
Knowledge of all breeds lets owners know that we care about their animal as an individual, including all of its life history that may be pertinent to understanding the animal and its relationship to the owner. It gives us an automatic level of trust and understanding with the owners that may not have been possible if we just considered their animal as a species, and not a specific breed.
Overall, I think it is important to take some time to learn your breeds! It can be difficult to memorize chicken breeds or other breeds that we may have limited experience with. So, get out there and go to some farms. Visit some dog breeders. Learn what our future clients are doing, learn how they live with their animals, and learn how you can become a better advocate for all the different breeds that exist.