From Workhorses To Chihuahuas, Veterinary Medical Board Celebrates 125 Years Of Protecting Consumers And Animals

May marked the 125th anniversary of the Veterinary Medical Board.

The board was created in 1893 at the request of veterinary professionals who saw the need for more training and higher standards in the care of animals. That first year, the board licensed 69 veterinarians. Back in those days, horses were the main means of travel and California was an agricultural state reliant on oxen for plowing and livestock for food.

Caring for those animals was the mainstay of early veterinary practices. Professional veterinary care was critical because disease outbreaks threatened not only the livelihood and survival of individuals, but also threatened the state’s economy. Before the Gold Rush, veterinarians in California had little formal training, but that changed when the West started to draw formally trained and educated veterinarians.

The first board was made up of five qualified practitioners in veterinary medicine and surgery and was required to meet at least once every six months. Degrees in veterinary medicine weren’t mandatory for licensure, and the examination fee was $5 for applicants with a diploma and $10 for those without. A license cost $5, and practicing without a license could result in a fine of $100 to $500, or imprisonment for up to six months, or both. Surprisingly, licenses were only required in cities or towns that had a population of at least 2,000 people.

After the board’s first year of operation, California’s first veterinary medical school opened—the University of California (UC) Veterinary College, in San Francisco, which was part of the UC system.

After World War II, veterinary practice shifted dramatically in the state as urbanization occurred and veterinarians were treating more small animals and family pets.

A lot has changed in 125 years. The board now licenses approximately 14,000 veterinarians; 8,800 registered veterinary technicians; 3,600 veterinary assistants; and 4,000 veterinary hospitals.

Although the board has evolved over more than a century, it continues to protect consumers and animals by licensing professionals, developing and maintaining professional standards, and enforcing the California Veterinary Medicine Practice Act.

For more information about the Veterinary Medical Board, visit


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A Caring Profession, The Story of Veterinary Medicine in California, published by the California Veterinary Medical Association.

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