Veterinarians Answer: What Do You Consider The Biggest Breakthrough In Veterinary Medicine?

Are you curious what veterinarians consider the biggest breakthrough in veterinary medicine? 

I broke the question into two parts:
a) what do they consider the biggest breakthrough in veterinary medicine of all times
b) what do they consider the biggest breakthrough in veterinary medicine in the last decade
Are you ready to find out?

I believe that the biggest breakthrough in veterinary medicine of all times is the distemper, parvo and rabies vaccines. Hands down these have saved more lives for puppies and dogs than anything else.

The biggest breakthrough in veterinary medicine in the past decade is a toss-up. Interestingly, considering my all time breakthrough, one of my choices is the realization that we have been over-vaccinating our pets and we have changed vaccine protocols.

Equally as important is the more widespread acceptance of complementary and alternative medicine and therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic, herbal medicine, nutritional therapies, and equine and canine rehab.

—Dr. Daniel Beatty, DVM, Dog Kinetics
    Dr. Dan on Facebook and Twitter


I think that the spay and neuter (surgical and the new chemical) procedures have been the biggest breakthrough in vet med if you can call it that. I do believe the procedures are more of a game changer to the health of pets and the pet population worldwide than anything else.

As for this decade, the increasing prevalence of generic drugs available for pets. The barriers to allow pets access to non-brand name drugs have been extensive and still are. Many vets have dug in their heels, and the bill requiring vets to provide prescriptions didn't get passed  (it did have some flaws indeed), but there are hundreds of generics now available for pets.

More importantly, attention has been drawn to this area and many vets are embracing this. Imagine that—veterinary medicine where vets get to practice medicine and not push Rimadyl off their shelves before it expires. I believe in another 10 years veterinary medicine will have advanced leaps and bounds in this regard, and I can't wait!

—Dr. Laci Schaible, DVM, VetLIVE
    Dr. Laci on Facebook and Twitter


Vaccines have to be the biggest medical breakthrough of all time for animals be it those on 2 or 4 legs. It has caused the fading from the collective memory of the diseases that vaccination has pushed to the periphery of our awareness. This has somewhat unfairly left issues related to side effects, real or imagined, more forefront in the current lexicon than they warrant.

However standing back and considering the effect on the individual, the population, and the economy of the diseases that vaccination has controlled more than overcome the negatives, real or perceived. Diseases that vaccination has controlled include, Rabies, Tetanus, Distemper, Parvovirus,Kennel Cough, Brucellosis, Smallpox ,Polio, Equine Rhinopneumonitis, Atrophic Rhinitis, Feline Leukaemia, Infectious Laryngitis-Tracheitis , Newcastle's Disease, Infectious Bursal Disease, Erysipelas, Leptospirosis, Measles, Infectious Bovine Rhinotracheitis ,Anthrax, Botulism, Rinderpest., and many many more.

Not only have these listed diseases been managed, currently and in the future, there are vaccine solutions being pursued for types of cancer, parasites like malaria, and therapies derived from vaccine technology are being adapted to deliver gene therapy for inherited diseases.

The big leap forward recently would be the general improvement in parasite management. With rare exceptions, parasites can be readily controlled with the products available now. Fleas, Heartworm, Hookworms, Roundworms, Strongyles, Warbles, Lice, Whipworms, Tapeworms, Sarcoptes, Ear mites and so on are parasites that succumb to the currently available products..  Admittedly some parasite diseases also require rigorous management of population densities, care in mixing different generations and identification of those individuals lacking in innate resistance. That being said the impact of parasites on the development of other secondary diseases such as allergies, anemia, hypoproteinemia, starvation, intestinal obstruction, heart-lung disease, and so on is now a rare rather than a common event.

—Dr. Rae Worden, DVM , Fergus Veterinary Hospital
    Dr. Rae on Facebook and Twitter


I thought long and hard on this one.

I decided to narrow down the list by just sticking to veterinary exclusive products, (those designed for pets only... Because so much of our products have trickled over from the human side).

I think the biggest breakthrough in vet medicine of all time is vaccines. Can you imagine where we would be without a rabies vaccine? Or distemper? Or any if the rest of them. I am lucky enough to have not had to practice during the times before "routine vaccines" were available. I don't know if my heart could endure watching whole litters of  puppies die from what we now consider "preventable diseases."

I think the last ten years biggest breakthrough is micro-chipping. At my clinic, I provide them for free to every patient because I have witnessed first hand how many lives it saves. Tragically many pets never find their homes if they end up at a shelter. Those with microchips have a considerably better chance of being reunited with their family if they have a microchip. I tell my clients that it costs me $12 bucks to give it to them for free and that I hope they never need it, but if they do it will be there for both of them.

If I could answer part B with the greatest breakthrough in the last 25 years I would say flea & tick and heartworm preventatives. They to have saved millions of pets lives AND provided a safe, effective, and easy way to control the parasites our pets face daily.

—Dr. Krista Magnifico, DVM, Diary of a Real-Life Veterinarian
    Dr. Krista on Twitter


In my mind, the biggest breakthrough (the one that has had the greatest impact on the largest number of animals) in the last decade was the discovery that taurine deficiency was the major cause of dilated cardiomyopathy (a uniformly fatal disease) in cats.

Perhaps I am biased because Dr. Paul Pion who was one year behind me in veterinary school at Cornell made this discovery. With the addition of taurine to commercially prepared cat foods, dilated cardiomyopathy in cats has virtually disappeared.

In terms of all times....... I would say vaccinations have saved more lives than anything else.

—Dr. Nancy Kay, DVM, Speaking for Spot
    Dr. Kay on Facebook and Twitter


I think the biggest breakthrough in veterinary medicine of all times is when (many) animals made the transition from being tools to companions. This freed veterinarians from being something akin to mechanics (e.g., why pay to fix the mouser when I can get a new one for less) to actually practicing medicine because the individual in question has inherent value.

The biggest breakthrough in the last ten years is regenerative medicine, in other words, the use of the patient's own stem cells to repair damaged tissue. I think we are on the cusp of something truly revolutionary and am beyond excited to see where this field of study is going to take us.

—Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM, Fully Vetted


The biggest breakthrough in veterinary my opinion would be the use of diagnostic imaging such as MRI, ultrasounds and digital radiography.  Allows us to get a better appreciation of what is going on with our patients while minimizing the invasive nature of many procedures.

The biggest breakthrough in veterinary medicine over the past my opinion, it would be proper and adequate pain recognition and treatment.  There has been a lot more research recently on how to assess pain in our patients and how to adequately treat the animals level of pain.

—Dr. Roxane Pardiac, DVM


The biggest breakthroughs in the last 30 years are the parvo vaccine and ivermectin.

In the last 20 years would be Frontline / Advantage and/or Rimadyl.

In the last 10, social media. :)

—Dr. Greg Magnusson, DVM (Leo's Daddy), Leo's Pet Care
    Dr. Greg on Facebook and Twitter


The biggest breakthrough of veterinary medicine of all time is the concept of vaccination. If you made me choose the most important veterinary vaccine of all time, it is the rabies vaccine.

The biggest breakthrough of the past ten years is more difficult! My top one is advances in anesthetic safety.

Also big are the melanoma vaccine and other cancer prevention and treatment advances, heartworm treatment advances, digital radiography and improved nutrition for dogs, cats, and small mammals.

—Dr. Shawn M. Finch, DVM, Riley & James 
    Dr. Shawn on Twitter


Is that what you expected or did the answers surprise you? What do YOU think has been the biggest breakthrough in veterinary medicine?

Is there a question you would love to hear the answer to?


  1. Vaccines were kind of predictable :-) It is interesting to see the variety of other things listed.

    1. I'm happy that regenerative therapy made the list, it's one of the things I'm passionate about.

      When I was thinking up my own list, improvements in pain management also came to mind. so I'm glad to see that one here also.

  2. I think that gene therapy is certainly something to watch where it goes.

    1. Yeah, cancer vaccines are very exciting. I read articles about combinations of cell and gene therapies. Really excited to see where that goes.

  3. It was great to read all the answers. I loved that one of the vets is giving micro chips for free :)

    Wags to all

    Your pal Snoopy :)

    1. They made the question so much more interesting by their answers than it's been when I came up with it :-)

  4. I think the different answers shows where our focus lies. I agree the obvious answers for all time were vaccines and I did think of spaying/neutering but that prevents lives instead of saving them :-)

    Regenerative medicine hasn't really been discovered yet - it still is in its infancy. It is actually scary because there are many of us that use it but we still do not know why exactly it works and we do not know the long term consequences of it. I would say it is one of the most exciting aspects of veterinary medicine today along with the different uses for gene therapy and vaccines such as for cancer treatment.

    Thanks for the question Jana!

    1. Hi Dr. Dan. It was so exciting to have you guys participate!

      I agree with you regarding the spay/neuter, it prevents lives; though it also prevents painful and cruel deaths, I guess. The main thing about that is, that it seems that recent research is showing that early--and sometimes ridiculously early--spay and neuter actually contributes to health problems later on and possibly creates more problems than it solves (in terms of individual health anyway)

      True about regenerative medicine; hard for me not to be excited about it, though, considering what it has done for Jasmine. I think the logic of how it works is quite simple, now we just need to hope and confirm that that's really what happens.

      I think, particularly with the adult stem cells, it's really just "relocating" resources and the cells are not asked to do anything they haven't been design for. With embryonic stem cells, I would have some concerns.

      Some regenerative therapies don't seem to be that young, though? Such as prolotherapy and fluid therapies, such as platelet rich plasma therapy?

    2. Prolotherapy really isn't regenerative therapy it is a chemical induction of fibrosis and scar tissue formation. And you are right, they have been doing that to racehorses for many many years.

      Platelet therapy is what I prefer over stem cells for a variety of reasons but it also is in its infancy as far as understanding how it actually is working. We have good ideas and the research, because of stem cell therapy, has been exponential here in the last few years so I agree it is exciting and one of my favorite therapies right now. Definitely not dissing regenerative therapies - you ask this question 5 years from now and my hope is that my answer will be changing. Because everyone will be either vaccinating every three years or titer testing the core vaccines AND we will have a better information on regenerative medicine. :-)

  5. Great article Jana! I agree with all of them and would like to add laser surgery and digital x-rays to breakthroughs that they clinic where I work have made over the last few years. It's not as huge as some of the breakthroughs mentioned but on a smaller scale it has been great for us.

    1. HA! Dr. Roxane did list digital radiography! :-) You're right, laser surgery didn't make the list; well, I asked only for ONE breakthrough, I'm sure if I asked for top 10 or something it would have made it :-)

  6. Interesting article. I think a great advance is geriatric care. Our pets aren't dying from parasites or viruses or malnutrition, so now they live to be the equivalent of human nursing home patients, with all the same ailments. I've encountered some vets that weren't interested in diagnosing the ailments of my geriatrics, but those that do care (and keep up with advances in medicine) help my dogs stay happy and comfortable for a long time. I currently have a blind/deaf 15-year-old with lymphoma who is doing rather well.

    1. A vet who is not interested in diagnosis/treating any dog is not a vet I'd go to.


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