Antique Veterinary Book - A glimpse into our past

Book_4_Hellen_webA handbook describing practical veterinary remedies has been in my possession for many years and I have found enjoyment within its pages. Maybe you will too.

Published by the Minnesota Printing Company at 24 West Lake Street and authored by Dr. J. G. Hellen, V.S.V.D. on a date not identified in the book but certainly prior to the discovery of Penicillin in 1928. Dr. Hellen’s Veterinary Receipt Book stated purpose is that 'the truisms it contains may be the means of mitigating much suffering, and to keep down Unnecessary Expenses'.

The handbook contains a Dose Table for horse, cow and dog. Many of drugs listed appear to be quite dangerous including:

  • Many types of acid including Arsenious acid.
  • Opium is listed with a dose of up to 2 dr. for a horse and up to 6 dr. for a dog. This just doesn’t seem correct. 
  • Many other drugs have a holistic approach, including Extract of Rhubarb, Extract of Ginger, Tr. Nut Gall, Croton Oil, and Podophyllum.
  • Another sounds like an illicit drug, Cannabis Indica.
  • A Hemlock dose is listed, but wasn’t Hemlock the poison used to put Socrates to death? 
  • An extract of Ergot is listed, but this plant fungus contains isoergine, which is about 10 percent as potent as LSD. 
  • Potassium Bromide is the only drug listed that is still used by the medical community, it is used for treating seizures. Will the medicines we use now be looked at with equal distain?

Topical Liniments were very popular and almost all appeared to include Turpentine to help the other ingredients penetrate the skin. There were specific liniments for each condition:

  • The Famous Black Liniment of Linseed Oil, Turpentine and Sulphuric Acid, which were used for 'barbwire cuts and sores of all kinds, apply with a feather once a day'. 
  • One liniment containing Camphor Gum, Turpentine, Oil Origanum, Tr. Canthardies and Alcohol is recommended for treating Sweeny by ‘applying to the shrunken parts every 3 days, rubbing well. For two weeks then grease well with lard’. Sweeney is known today as a traumatic nerve injury around the shoulders from pulling a plow. 
  • The Old Country Liniment containing Alcohol, Turpentine, Sweet oil, Ammonia, Camphor and Oil Origanum recommended ‘mix and apply twice a day, rub in well with a woolen cloth. Good for Rheumatism in man or beast’. 
  • For treating ‘Azoturia’ (Kidney Failure), a mixture of Aloe, Ginger and Warm Water is given orally. Then ‘bathe horses loins over the kidneys every two hours with equal parts of Aqua Ammonia and water. Then apply hot blankets continuously. Draw horses water twice a day. Feed sloppy feed, give plenty of linseed tea'.

The treatment for Sunstroke seems a little hopeless:

‘If the day is hot, rest your horse often and give him a small quantity of water as often as possible, but not too much at a time. If he lags take him to a shady place at once, give him a long rest, if possible give him a half pint of whiskey in the same of water. If the horse stops, staggers and refuses to go, pants violently, lose no time in dashing cold water on him over the entire body. Give him whiskey every hour; continue the water until the horse dies or consciousness returns’.


Many proverbs throughout the book were undoubtedly popular for their wisdom and experience:

  • A proper dose of medicine at the right time is worth a dozen doses when it is to late. 
  • Keep a few good Veterinary remedies on hand in case of emergency, as there is no use locking the barn after the horse is stolen. Don’t be afraid to spend a dollar for a good Veterinary remedy, it may save you a hundred. 
  • A stitch in time saves nine, and a dose in time, of proper medicine will save your horse, most every time. 
  • Don’t buy a patent medicine that is guaranteed to cure everything; as such a remedy cannot be put in one bottle. 
  • A merciful man is merciful to his beast. 
  • There are many different diseases and a proper remedy for most of them, if administered at the proper time. 
  • More animals are killed by being doped with drugs, than there are saved.

And finally a poem written To Tell the Age Of Any Horse:

Inspect the lower jaw, of course;
The six front teeth the tale will tell,
And every doubt and fear dispel.
Two middle nippers you behold
Before the colt is two weeks old;
Before eight weeks two more will come;
Eight months the corners cut the gum.
The outside grooves will disappear
From middle two in just one year.
In two years from the second pair
In three years “corner” too are bare.
At two the middle “Nippers” drop;
At three the second pair can’t stop.
When four years old the third pair goes,
At five a full new set he shows.
The deep black spots will pass from view
At six years, from the middle two;
The second pair at seven years;
At eight the spot each corner clears.
From middle “nippers” upper jaw
At nine the black spots will withdraw,
The second pair at ten are bright;
Eleven finds the corners light.
Bridle teeth the horse has four
Two on the upper jaw two on the lower;
The mare has two that comes at seven,
And disappear at the age of eleven.
As time goes on the horsemen know,
The oval teeth three-sided grow;
They longer get project before
Till twenty, when we know no more.