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Fun With Big Veterinary Words

Updated on October 12, 2017
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.

POLYDACTYL CAT...                                                     Can you define the word by viewing this picture?
POLYDACTYL CAT... Can you define the word by viewing this picture? | Source

Defining Some Unusual Veterinary Terminology

Those of us who don’t have DVM or VMD after our names often find curious the words used by those who do.

By the way, the difference between DVM and VMD is a matter of where the vet earned his or her doctorate.

Vet schools confer the degree of DVM, or Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, while the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine exclusively confers the degree of VMD (Veterinary Medical Doctor). But back to the big words they use.

Take polydactyl for instance. The Vetspeak version might go something like this: “Other than being polydactyl, your kitten is perfectly normal.”

Layspeak would be: “Other than being double pawed, your kitten is perfectly normal."

In Layspeak we might ask, “If I decide to have him declawed, Doc, does it cost more ‘cause he’s a pterodactyl?"

Vetspeak: "In this clinic, onychectomy is billed the same, whether he’s polydactyl or not."

When we laypeople are stumped, the Layspeak is: “Beats me,” “Haven’t got a clue,” or “Be damned if I know.”

The Vetspeak version might be: “Your dog’s strange behavior was, as far as I can tell, an idiopathic event."

Idiopathic is the classy way of saying, "of uncertain or unknown origin."

A Layspeak example of undernourished might be: “My dog was on the loose for three weeks, Doc, and now he’s just skin and bone.”

Vetspeak would be: “Yes, he does seem to be showing signs of cachexia.”

In Layspeak you might complain: “It never fails, Doc, after we give Boomer a plate of linguica with fried potatoes & onions we hear his bowels growl and you know what comes next.”

The Vetspeak response might be: “Well, as soon as you hear the borborygmus rush him over to your neighbor’s yard for the anticipated outcome, no pun intended." (I'll claim a little “creative license,” here. Your vet wouldn’t advise that and she’d scold you for feeding linguica with fried potatoes & onions, regardless of how delicious it is!)

Layspeak: “It's spooky, Doc; when I scratch the base of Fluffy’s tail her eyes glaze over, she starts this robot-like jerky head turning, and then she goes into this exaggerated licking action on her chest or shoulder. What's up with that?"

Vetspeak: “Nothing serious probably, it appears you’re inducing an episode of feline hyperesthesia.”


An owner of a pug or a boxer might have a conversation like this with the vet: Veterinarian: "During hot weather, and often just during exercise, it's common for brachycephalics to have a difficult time breathing.

Layperson: "Oh, and all this time I thought it was because he has a smooshed-in nose!" Brachycephalic is the term for short-muzzled dogs.

And now for my personal favorite. Layspeak:I can’t walk him on a leash, Doc, he pulls me half way across town.”

Vetspeak: "Immediately upon the onset of positive thigmotaxis try bringing him to a “sit” command". Or: “My cat hates me, Doc; he slinks away from my hand every time I pet his back.”

Vetspeak: "There, there, now. Negative thigmotaxis isn’t necessarily a sign that your cat hates you."

The word “thigmotaxis” is of Greek origin, by the way, and roughly translated, thigmo means touch and taxis means movement.

Feel free to use this stuff during those awkward silent moments on a blind date or to dazzle folks at the next (and probably last) cocktail party you’re invited to!

© 2012 Bob Bamberg


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    • GalaxyRat profile image

      GalaxyRat 6 months ago from The Crazy Rat Lady's House

      Actually, my favorite vetspeak is polydactyl, and negative thigmotaxis. And nice to know about the Crazy Rat can tell I'm crazy about rats from my name, location, and picture...

      Anyway, thanks for making the Hub. Have bookmarked for additional laughs!

    • Bob Bamberg profile image

      Bob Bamberg 6 months ago from Southeastern Massachusetts

      Hi, GalaxyRat...I agree. I expected some comments, and perhaps some additions of the readers' favorite vetspeak. Life's full of little disappointments, isn't it? Anyway, I'm glad you stopped by and took the time to comment. By the way, back around Y2K I was working at a feed and grain store and one of our customers was a crazy rat lady. You're not alone. Nice to have you drop by.

    • GalaxyRat profile image

      GalaxyRat 6 months ago from The Crazy Rat Lady's House

      Ha! I'm surprised this hasn't gotten any comments... really funny, and knew most of the words. LOL