The legend of Mark Morris

By Don “Doc” Sanders

If you don’t already know about him, allow me to introduce you to Dr. Mark Morris. He was a veterinarian known for his extraordinary work in developing diets to manage dog and cat diseases. He graduated from Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in 1926.

In the late 1920s he built one of the first veterinary hospitals for dogs and cats, in Edison, New Jersey. His clinic focused only on dogs and cats. Something unheard of in those days. Then, veterinarians usually focused their practices on farm animals.

Morris was a pioneer in researching, diagnosing and developing treatment protocols for dogs and cats. Working with Rutgers University, his groundbreaking achievement was developing a nutritional program to manage dogs with kidney disease. He named his nutritional formula K/D, which many of you may recognize if you have had a dog with kidney disease.

The concept of this formula is to lower the nitrogen intake (protein) to alleviate the urinary excretion load on a dog’s kidneys. He formulated this diet in his own kitchen and joined with Hill Packing Company in Topeka, Kan, to commercially can his new recipe, named Hill’s Prescription Diet K/D Canine. It entered the dog food market in 1948 through a partnership of Burton Hill and Hill Packing Company.

The success of this product in improving the health of dogs with kidney disease motivated Dr. Morris to develop nutritional programs for other dog and cat diseases. These products included cat diseases (C/D), canine liver disease (Diet Liver), heart disease (H/D), pancreatitis (I/D) and obesity (R/D). He also developed a formula to promote optimum growth and health in puppies (P/D).

Morris’s son, Mark Morris Jr., DVM, joined him in developing a full range of nutritional foods to manage and treat unhealthy dogs and cats. These diets, sold under the Science Diet brand, are focused on pet diseases. They aren’t necessarily a cure-all, but they aid in recovery when used with other therapies to help pets live a fuller life.

In 1948, when his prescription pet diet formulas were introduced as Hill’s Science Diets, Dr. Morris founded an animal health charity. He directed a half cent per can of the prescription dog food to the Morris Animal Foundation. The foundation helped fund research and the advancement of pet nutrition.

While he was a pioneer in advancing the science of veterinary medicine, Dr. Morris and six other veterinarians organized the American Animal Health Association (AAHA). AAHA established the gold standard for veterinary protocols, veterinary medical equipment, and care in small animal hospitals.

Veterinary hospitals strived to become AAHA-certified to demonstrate their high level of care. Morris was also elected president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). The AVMA executive board, under Morris’s leadership, built its executive headquarters in 1970 in Schaumberg, Ill.

Morris was a strong advocate for recruiting students into veterinary medicine. Today, the AVMA has more than 100,000 members, representing 90% of all U.S. veterinarians.

Contrast this to the American Medical Association (AMA). Its 625,000 members represent less than 25% of all medical doctors in the U.S. Most physicians are dedicated to one specialty organization or another, with little interest in the overall association of medical doctors. It is no wonder that medical doctors often lack cohesiveness, cooperation and communication between one another.

The Achilles heel of the veterinary profession, as well as animal agriculture, is that, though 90% all veterinarians are members of the AVMA, only about 10% of veterinarians provide medical, health and management support for food animal agriculture. The remainder specialize in the care of small animals, like dogs and cats, research, and Federal regulatory functions.

We desperately need more large animal vets to replace those, who like me, are getting long in the tooth.

Disclosure: I have seen our nation’s broken healthcare system up close and personally when my wife, Dr. Judy, passed away in 2011, and when, in 2021, my second wife, Kris, and in 2022, my daughter, Michelle, died.

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