BOOKS: Merck Veterinary Manual

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2005:

Merck Veterinary Manual
50th Aniversary Edition (9th Edition)
Merial (3239 Satellite Blvd., Duluth, GA 30096), 2005. 2712
pages, hardcover. $45.00.

The 50th Anniversary Edition of the Merck Veterinary Manual
looks strikingly like a Bible. It incorporates the work of more than
350 contributing authors.
“Last updated in 1998,” explains the promotional material,
“the Merck Veterinary Manual is the oldest and most widely consulted
reference of its kind. The Eighth Edition sold more than 100,000
copies worldwide, and was translated into six languages.”
These days as many users, maybe more, simply go to the web
enter a search term, and quickly retrieve the precise information
that seems to suit their needs.

That may be the most efficient use of the wealth of knowledge
in the Merck Veterinary Manual, which is probably the closest
approach in existence to a single-source reference on everything
known about animal health.
Most Merck Veterinary Manual users are hectically busy. They
do not have the hundreds of hours that would be needed to read the
Merck Veterinary Manual cover to cover, a page or two or whole
chapter a day, as if it was a Bible and they were the religious
faithful of slower times.
Yet there might be great value in reading and pondering each
page. The Biblical approach might almost suffice for the textbook
side of a general veterinary education.
As important, the Merck Veterinary Manual is structured to
invite a broad perspective. Each chapter is written by a different
team of specialists, but as a whole the volume works against narrow
specialization, toward awareness and appreciation of animals of
every kind. Most vets and certainly most non-veterinary humane
workers will never need to refer to huge sections of the book, yet
many of these passages may contain material worth having in the back
of one’s mind, just in case.
For instance, “Most dilphid marsupials can be fed dry or
canned dog or cat food…Wombats and the larger macropod marsupials
can be fed a combination of large herbivore pellets and rabbit
The next time I get a late-night call from a bewildered cop
who just found a hungry wallaby at a truck plaza, I’ll be able to
give a quicker answer about what to feed the critter besides potato
chips. Meanwhile, here is a hint as to why rabbits so rapidly
spread across Australia, after native marsupials were hunted to
scarcity: rabbits were not only able to eat the same vegetation,
but were preferentially adapted to a similar diet, having evolved to
fill a similar ecological niche, with even a similar mode of
As a technical reference, much of the Merck Veterinary
Manual is turgidly Latinate, not at all light reading. It does not
include colorful stories like those that keep Bible readers turning
the pages. Yet reading random sections can be fun. There are dryly
comic passages, such as the mention that gonads usually come in
pairs, and frequent glimpses of animal personality.
For example, page 1535 mentions that, “The chief cause of
death in captive marine mammals is believed to be pneumonia. It is
not common in polar bears.”
Why not? Though the Merck Veterinary Manual itself does not
even try to explain, the answer is in the animals’ differing
responses to stimulation and stress. Some species, among them polar
bears and tigers, thrive on activity levels that send most species
looking for a place to hide. While other marine mammals suffer in
captivity from sensory overload, polar bears more often suffer from
Chapter headings include the Circulatory System, Digestive
System, Eye and Ear, Endocrine System, Generalized Conditions,
Immune System, Integumentary System (skin and fur), Metabolic
Disorders, Muskuloskeletal System, Nervous System, Reproductive
System, Respiratory System, Urinary System, Behavior, Clinical
Pathology & Procedures, Emer-gency Medicine & Critical Care, Exotic
& Laboratory Animals (a pairing that perhaps unconsciously recognizes
common conditions of exploitation), Management & Nutrition,
Pharmacology, Poultry, Toxicology, and Zoonoses.
At just $45 for the volume, amounting to $20 per pound, the
Merck Veterinary Manual looks to me like a bargain, whether viewed
as prevention or cure.

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