Veterinary Past

Bloodletting: Background and techniques used in veterinary medicine

  • L. Devriese
  • C. Van der Meeren
  • J. De Smet


For centuries, evacuation of blood, bloodletting, along with purgation, has been the most employed means to attempt healing in diseased domestic animals, as well as in humans. It was a common belief that unknown and much-feared evil forces causing disease (in French: “le mal”, hence “la maladie”) could be evacuated from the body in this way. Among university-trained medicals, however, bloodletting was justified by antique Greek theories on disbalance (dyscrasy) of the different body humors (liquids), as the main cause of illness. Through Roman, Byzantine and Arab medicine, this doctrine was introduced in European medical schools. In the nineteenth century, this was superseded by theories on inflammation as a major cause. Again, evacuation of blood was advocated as a powerful means to cure. In domestic animals, bloodletting was frequently performed by farrier- or butcher-veterinarians, officially licensed in the nineteenth century to attempt most veterinary diagnoses and therapeutic acts. A diary kept by a farrier-veterinarian with a mainly dairy practice in a Flemish rural region from 1853 to 1887, shows that bloodletting was done in nearly half (44.5%, first period) to over one third (38%, second period) of all patients suffering from internal disorders. This was nearly always accompanied by oral application of minerals and plant extracts in drenches. This background information is completed and illustrated by a short description of the techniques used.

How to Cite:

Devriese, L., Van der Meeren, C. & De Smet, J., (2021) “Bloodletting: Background and techniques used in veterinary medicine”, Vlaams Diergeneeskundig Tijdschrift 90(6), 313-318. doi:

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Published on
23 Dec 2021
Peer Reviewed