Breaking down veterinary terminology

Studying anatomy and physiology will help you better understand almost anything about rats – from behavior to bedding choices. Anatomy is the study of body organ structures and locations. Physiology describes how organs and systems function. Most unfamiliar words you might come across in your studies are easy to comprehend when you understand how the words are put together. Medical terminology is based in Latin, with most words having meanings in the prefix, body/root and suffix.

Common prefixes

a- : without, lacking, not
anti- : against, opposing
bi- : two, double, twice
cata- : down, under, lower
circum- : against, around
Co-, com-, con- : around
contra- : with, together
de- : against, opposed
di- : two, twice
dis- : apart from, free from
dys- : difficult, painful, abnormal
endo- : within, inner
ep, epi- : upon, on, over, above
eu- : normal, good, well, healthy
extra- : outside of, beyond
hyper- : excessive, high
hyp-, hypo- : deficient, low
inter- : between
mal- : bad, poor
neo- : new, recent
peri- : around
poly- : many, much

Common suffixes

-algia : pain
-cyte : cell
-ectomy : cutting out
-emesis : vomit
-emia : blood
-iasis : infestation, infection
-ism : state, condition
-itis : inflammation
-logy : study of
-oma : tumor
-osis : abnormal, degenerate
-penia : lack of, deficiency
-phage : eating
-plasia : forming, growing, changing
-pnea : breathing
-rrhea : flow, discharge
-rrhexis : rupture
-scopy : art of examining
-stomy : surgical opening
-tomy : cutting, incision

To understand the positions of the body parts, topographic terms must be used. Common words like front, behind and underneath aren’t very accurate because their meanings depend on the orientation of the subject.  To be of any use, the meanings of directional terms must be independent of the body’s position and angle from which it is viewed. Most directional terms come in opposite pairs.

Left and right always refer to an animal’s left and right.  Cranial/anterior refers to the direction toward the head of an animal and caudal/posterior refers towards the tail. Although those two terms are useful on most of the body, when speaking of the structures in the head, cranial loses its meaning. Rostral refers to the direction towards the tip of the hose and is only used when describing structures on or in the head. Caudal is still used to describe positioning in the head. Dorsal is towards the backbone and ventral refers to the direction away from the backbone (toward the belly). Superficial (external) structures are located towards the surface of the body or part, and deep (internal) structures are located towards the center. Proximal and distal are used to describe distance from a point of origin, especially on the extremities. Proximal is nearer the point of origin and closer to the body and distal is farther from the point of origin and away from the body. Lateral and medical are words used to describe location of one structure relative to another. Medial is closer to the mid-line (median) and lateral is farther away from the median. Palmer refers to the caudal surface of the forelimb distal to the carpus (knee), and plantar refers to the caudal surface of the hind limb distal to the tarsus (hock).

Numerous terms describe how the body is positioned. Some of the most common are listed below:

Recumbent – lying down
Ventrally recumbent – lying on the belly
Sternally recumbent (prone) – lying on the breastbone (sternum)
Dorsally recumbent (supine) – lying on the backbone (vertebrae)
Laterally recumbent – lying on the side

Some commonly used words are used to describe various aspects of disease not confined to one body system.

Acute – severe, rapid onset with short duration
Asymptomatic – without symptoms
Chronic – of long duration
Clinical – readily observed, visible
Enzootic – affecting a nearly constant number of animals in a certain area (endemic)
Epizootic – prevalent and spreading rapidly among large numbers of animals at the same time (epidemic)
Etiology – causes of disease
Febrile – relating to fever
Focus – localizing region of disease (plural is foci)
Idiopathic – disease of spontaneous origin
Lesion – wound or injury
Morbid – illness
Moribund – near death
Mortality – death
Necrosis – death of a portion of the body
Necrotic – referring to dead tissue
Palliative – treatment that gives relief, usually without removing the cause of the disease
Pathogen – disease-causing microorganism
Pathology – essential nature of disease, the structural and functional manifestations of disease
Prophylaxis – treatment to prevent disease
Purulent – pus
Therapy – treatment of disease
Virulence – ability of a microorganism to cause disease
Zoonosis – disease that may be transmitted between animals and humans

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