As the world gets smaller through ease of transportation and increased technological connection, the health professions strive to be on the forefront of disease prevention and detection. Veterinarians are a crucial part of that equation, as large sections of the public and government are still unaware of how animal and human health are tied together by zoonotic diseases. Veterinarians also play a critical role in educating owners on proper husbandry practices, often a key element in disease prevention and detection.
Proper animal husbandry includes anything related to the production and management of an animal (think breeding horses, milking goats, shearing sheep, quarantining of transported cows), as well as the maintenance of an individual animal’s health (nutrition, bedding, restraint methods, veterinary care, proper exercise). Optimal animal husbandry practices not only contribute to lower disease transmission and increased early detection, but also increase animal welfare. Increased animal welfare allows that animal to be more productive for the owner, which will directly affect the owner’s quality of life.
Educating owners about proper husbandry is difficult, because most don’t even know they need the help. For instance, many people in the U.S. adopt Border Collies or Australian Cattle Dogs for their handsome looks, not realizing that these working breeds require high amounts of daily physical and mental stimulation. Hence, many working breed dogs are funneled into shelters because owners are unaware of their dogs’ needs. In my International Veterinary Medicine course, my class skyped a British veterinarian working in Morocco to provide free healthcare for working horses, donkeys, and mules. From our discussion, it became clear that the vast majority of issues they treated were caused by improper husbandry, like inadequate nutrition (feeding only straw to a mule) and improper restraint (using wire hobbles that embedded in muscle and bone). As in most developing countries, human needs outweighed animal needs for “additional” animal provisions like bedding, vaccination and hoof care, and periods of rest.
Husbandry and animal welfare are inextricably linked, and proper husbandry plays an important role in disease prevention. It’s my opinion that if veterinarians stress the importance of animal husbandry and educate their clients on proper husbandry, then they can proverbially “kill two birds with one stone,” increase animal welfare while strengthening disease prevention.