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Veterinary Science: Databases

Database Searching

Scanning through vast amounts of available academic literature to find relevant and scientifically sound articles on any given topic can be a daunting task. Searching authoritative databases is the quickest and most efficient way to search the literature. Academic libraries are subscribed to a variety of bibliographic, full text and citation databases and as a staff member or registered student of an academic institution you have on- and off-campus access to these databases. All the databases can be accessed from the library webpage. Use the “Veterinary databases” link from the Veterinary Science webpage. No passwords are needed, but a staff or student number and portal password is needed for authentication. Students and staff may register on individual databases with a unique username and password in order to make use of personalisation functionalities.

Databases are usually searched to get updated information on a subject or topic, but may also be searched to verify a specific reference, do a citation search, analyse research results according to different elements and create citation reports. While some databases cover literature in all scientific fields, e.g. Web of Science, others are focused on specific subject areas e.g. CAB Abstracts. It is important when searching for information to select the correct databases for your topic. It is also important to note what the geographic coverage of a database is. Most databases have an international coverage e.g. CAB Abstracts, Medline, Scopus, Web of Science and Zoological Record, while others focus on a specific geographic area such as the South African database SABINET Reference.

An alternative to searching academic literature on the web when access to subscribed databases via an academic institution is not possible is searching Google Scholar or free databases such as PubMed or Agricola or open access institutional repositories such as the University of Pretoria’s UPSpace.

Before you begin your literature search, it is always important to plan carefully. Give careful thought of what you are looking for and where and in what type of information sources you may find your information.

The following steps may be followed in preparing your search strategy for a search in a database:

  1. Formulate a clear research question. Identify the main concepts from this question to be included in your search.
  2. Think of synonyms and related terms for the main concepts or use a thesaurus that supplies broader and narrower terms for your main concepts. Keep in mind the different American and English spelling.
  3. Decide which search terms are primary and which are secondary. Include both more specific and more general terms to adapt your search strategy according to results retrieved. Search the most relevant terms first and then try to narrow it down with terms that are more specific.
  4. Two (or more) terms that are always used together, in the same order, can be used as a phrase with inverted commas (e.g. “babesia canis”).
  5. Formulate a Boolean search strategy by using Boolean operators (AND, OR, NOT) to combine your main concepts, synonyms and related terms into a logical structure.
  6. Find out about the different search functionalities and techniques available in a specific database and implement them in your search.
  7. Execute the search in the identified database.

Boolean operators are generally used in databases to combine different concepts during the search process in order to obtain the required results.

The most important Boolean operators are “and”, “or” and “not”.


Use AND to retrieve records containing both search terms: all terms must be included in the record for it to be retrieved. Use AND to narrow your search and retrieve fewer records.

Example: elephants AND lions retrieve records containing both the keywords elephants and lions


Use OR to retrieve records containing either or both search terms. Use OR to broaden your search and retrieve a greater number of records. Use OR for synonyms or spelling variations. Remember always to put your terms in brackets when using "or" e.g. (dog or dogs or canine)

Example: milk OR dairy retrieves records containing either milk or dairy, or both the keywords.

Example: behavior OR behaviour retrieves records that contain any of the spelling


Use NOT to exclude certain items from your search.

Caution: It is easy to exclude relevant records; use the NOT operator with care!

Example: “dog” not “tick” (will retrieve records containing the word dog, but will exclude records containing the word tick)

If you want to narrow or broaden your search and increase the relevancy of your search, you may want to find out if the database you’re using makes use of truncation symbols or proximity operators.

Different databases allow the use of truncation symbols or wildcard characters in different ways. The “Help screens” of databases will give instructions on the use of these functionalities.

The truncation symbol is usually an asterisk (*), dollar sign ($) or question mark (?) and is used to broaden a search by including terms that begin with a desired prefix or by replacing other characters in a word. The asterisk represents any group of characters, including no character. The dollar represents zero or one character and the question mark represents any single character.

e.g.  biochem* will search biochemistry or biochemical or biochemically

odo$r will search odor or odour

toxi? will search for toxin or toxic but not toxicity or toxicology

Proximity operators are used to indicate that search terms should appear next to each other or within a certain number of words from each other in a specified order to increase relevancy.

By entering multiple words into a topic field without using proximity operators or inverted commas to indicate a phrase, the system will retrieve all records that contain those terms anywhere in the record and many results will be irrelevant as the terms could be found in the text or description of the record, but not within context. To prevent this from happening, search a phrase or use proximity operators.


Use NEAR/x to find records where the terms joined by the operator are within a specified number of words of each other. This is true even when the words are across different fields.

Replace the x with a number to specify the maximum number of words that separate the terms.

If you use NEAR without /x, the system will find records where the terms joined by NEAR are within 15 words of each other. For example, these searches are equivalent:

  • salmon NEAR virus
  • salmon NEAR/15 virus

You can use NEAR in most fields, but not in the Year Published field. Be aware that you cannot use the AND operator in Topic and Title queries as a component of the NEAR operator. For example, the following query in the topic field is valid: (Brown NEAR "spider bite"). However, (Brown NEAR spider bite) is not valid because AND is used as an implied operator between the terms spider and bite.


You can use SAME in the Address field, but not in other fields.

In Address searches, use SAME to restrict your search to terms that appear in the same address within a Full Record. Use parentheses to group your address terms. For example:

(McGill Univ SAME Quebec SAME Canada) finds records in which McGill University appears in the Addresses field of a Full Record along with Quebec and Canada.

(Portland SAME Oregon) finds records in which Portland, Oregon, or OR (state abbreviation) appear in the Addresses field of a record.

Be aware that SAME works exactly like AND when used in other fields (such as Topic and Title fields) and when the terms appear in the same record. For example:

(cat SAME mouse) retrieves the same results as (cat AND mouse).

If you use different operators in your search without any brackets to group concepts, the search is processed according to this order of precedence:

  1. NEAR/x
  2. SAME
  3. NOT
  4. AND
  5. OR

copper OR lead AND algae finds all records in which both lead AND algae are present as well as all records in which the word copper is present.

The search statement (copper OR lead) AND algae finds all records in which the word algae is present together with either copper or lead.

Use of parentheses to override precedence:

The expression inside the parentheses is executed first.

(cadmium AND gill*) NOT Pisces finds records containing both cadmium and gill (or gills), but excludes records containing the word Pisces.

(salmon OR pike) NEAR/10 virus finds records containing salmon or pike within 10 words of virus.

A search string is formed when various search terms are combined with Boolean operators in one statement. The use of parentheses becomes important when combining different concepts with different Boolean operators in one statement.

Example: Dermatitis AND (cattle OR cow OR bull OR bovine)

To search for an exact phrase, enclose the phrase in quotation marks. For example, the query "energy conservation" will retrieve records that contain the exact phrase energy conservation. This applies only to Topic and Title searches.

If you enter a phrase without quotation marks, the search engine will retrieve records that contain all of the words you entered. The words may or may not appear close together. For example, energy conservation retrieves records containing the exact phrase energy conservation. It will also find records containing the phrase conservation of energy.

If you enter two words separated by a hyphen, period, or comma, then the term will be interpreted as an exact phrase. For example, the search term waste-water will find records containing the exact phrase waste-water or the phrase waste water. It will not match water wastewaste in drinking water, or water extracted from waste.

Veterinary Science Core Databases

CABI: CAB Abstracts (1910- ) and Global Health (1963- ) on the Web of Science platform

CABI is a searchable interface that contains two sources of data: CAB Abstracts (1910- ) and Global Health (1963- ).  As the University of Pretoria holds a subscription to both these data sets, it can be searched simultaneously. A “Basic Search” or an “Advanced Search” option is available when searching CAB Abstracts (1910- ) and Global Health (1963- ).

Accessing CAB Abstracts & Global Health on the Web of Science platform also has the option to search it simultaneously with all the other Web of Science resources our institution subscribes to (See Web of Science “All databases search”)

All content in CABI is produced by CAB International, a non-profit organisation based in the UK.  To learn more about the organisation, visit

CAB Abstracts is the largest professionally produced applied life sciences database, with international coverage in agriculture, animal and crop husbandry, animal and plant breeding, plant protection, genetics, forestry engineering and economics, food and nutrition, the environment, rural development, veterinary medicine and related disciplines. It contains over 5 million records from over 10,000 applied life science journals, books, conference proceedings and other documents, in a comprehensive archive dating back to 1910. The database includes 9000 journals and 2500 books and conference proceedings and the literature is drawn from over 158 countries spanning 50 languages.

The Global Health database focuses on public health at both the international and community level, with particular emphasis on developing nations.  Roughly 60% of the journals indexed are unique to the database, providing access to specialised information that is difficult to find elsewhere.  Global Health is used by researchers in medical universities, government agencies, public health institutions and food and nutrition companies.

Abstracts are included in about 95% of the records. For all CABI records, you’ll also find specialised indexing fields which provide detailed information about the concepts discussed in the article. (See CAB Thesaurus below) The same indexing conventions are used in CAB Abstracts and Global Health records for consistent searching across both resources.

MEDLINE is the U.S. National Library of Medicine’s premier bibliographic database that contains over 21 million references to journal articles in life sciences, with a concentration on biomedicine.  It covers the fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry, veterinary medicine, the health care system, preclinical sciences, allied health, biological and physical sciences, humanities and information science as they relate to medicine and health care, communication disorders, and reproductive biology.  A distinctive feature of MEDLINE is that the records are indexed with NLM Medical Subject Headings (MeSH®). Thesaurus terms selected from the thesaurus can be used as search terms.

A significant amount of information relevant to Veterinary Science is included in Medline.

A MEDLINE search can be done on the Web of Science platform. A “Basic Search” and an “Advanced Search” option are available.

The same basic search rules apply for the different search fields (Topic, Title, Author, Author identifier etc) as with the CAB Abstracts database.

SABINET Reference is a product of the South African based organisation SABINET. Their products and services are used worldwide by academic, public, government, legal and corporate libraries, research organisations, public and private organisations, law firms and individuals.

They are proud partners with the international organisation OCLC, a global membership computer library service and research organisation, to provide world class products and services to sub-Saharan Africa.

SABINET Research includes a whole collection of databases that can be searched individually or simultaneously.

Some of the databases included are:

ScienceDirect is a leading full-text scientific database offering journal articles and book chapters from almost 2,500 active journals and more than 26,000 books.

Science Direct is home to almost one-quarter of the world's peer-reviewed full-text scientific, technical and medical content. Over 15 million researchers, health care professionals, teachers, students and information professionals around the globe rely on ScienceDirect as a trusted source of nearly 2,500 journals and more than 26,000 book titles. ScienceDirect supports research and education with interactive elements in articles such as audio, video, graphs, tables and images, and offers tools so users can keep current with research trends. With over 12.6 million content pieces available—including pre-publication articles and open access content from Elsevier journals—ScienceDirect is a premier platform for discovering the world of research.

With ScienceDirect, you can start your search using the Quick search bar at the top of the page, or you can use the Advanced Search form for more specific searches.

With 53 million records and 21,915 titles from 5000 publishers, Scopus, launched in 2004, is the largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature that includes scientific journals, books and conference proceedings. Scopus delivers a comprehensive overview of the world's research output in the fields of science, technology, medicine, social sciences, and arts and humanities and its content is updated daily. Scopus includes coverage of journals from emerging economies such as Brasil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and the Republic of Korea. Scopus also features smart tools to track, analyse and visualise research.

The subject coverage in Scopus is as follows:

  • Life Sciences (agriculture, biology, neuroscience, pharmacology) (15%)
  • Social Sciences (arts & humanities, business, history, information sciences) (23%)
  • Physical Sciences (chemistry, engineering, mathematics) (30%)
  • Health Sciences (allied health, dentistry, nursing, veterinary medicine) (32%)

Web of Science is the global standard for finding and connecting scholarly content across multiple disciplines around the world. As a trusted multi-disciplinary citation database they offer coverage and unbiased metrics of the most impactful global and regional journals, books and proceedings for the scholarly community. It offers multi-year searching with coverage from 1910.

The foundation of the Web of Science platform is the Web of Science Core Collection. Apart from the Web of Science Core Collection, the following databases which the library subscribes to are also supported on the Web of Science platform:

These databases may be searched simultaneously (Option “All databases”) or each database can be searched on its own.

Web of Science Core Collection allows you to search more than 12,000 journals from over 45 different languages across the sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities.

The Web of Science Core Collection includes the following citation indexes:

Wildlife & Ecology Studies Worldwide (1935 to present), is the world’s largest index to literature on wild mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Coverage includes more than 1.6 million bibliographic records many of which include abstracts. Major topic areas include studies of individual species, habitat types, hunting, economics, wildlife behavior, management techniques, diseases, ecotourism, zoology, taxonomy and much more. Approximately 18,000 records are added per year.

The EBSCO platform allows users to conduct advanced searches using Guided-Style Find fields.

Zoological Record (on the Web of Science platform) (1978 – present) is the world's oldest continuing database of animal biology. The broad scope of coverage ranges from biodiversity and the environment to taxonomy and veterinary sciences. Zoological record is the unofficial register of animal names, also including all modern animal science research from biodiversity to wildlife management. It is the definitive animal biology resource and the world’s leading taxonomic reference.

Searches in the Zoological Record database on the Web of Science platform, can be done as a “Basic Search” or an “Advanced Search”.

The same basic search rules apply for the different search fields (Topic, Title, Author, Author identifier etcetera) as with the CAB Abstracts database. Zoological Record also includes a thesaurus and searches can be done with descriptor terms selected from the thesaurus.

An alternative to searching commercial databases that require a subscription is searching scholarly literature with GoogleScholar. GoogleScholar was launched in 2004 by Google Inc. and is the world’s largest indexing and citation database of scholarly literature.

Through GoogleScholar™ you can not only access scholarly articles published on the World Wide Web, but also access valuable information resources to which the library of the University of Pretoria subscribes - all from a single searchable point.

GoogleScholar includes the following features:

  • Search all scholarly literature from one convenient place
  • Explore related works, citations, authors, and publications
  • Locate the complete document through your library or on the web
  • Keep up with recent developments in any area of research
  • Check who's citing your publications, create a public author profile

Use Advanced Scholar Search to limit your search according to a specific article title, phrase, author, journal title, subject area, etc. Use the drop down arrow in the search block to get the option for an “Advanced search”. Use the GoogleScholar help files for more information on searching, creating alerts, creating your own library, following citations to your articles etc.

In support of the worldwide open access movement, UPSpace was formally launched in 2006. The “Open Access Approach” of the Department of Library Services is defined as follows in the UPSpace policy document:

“Research is not always accessible to all, and often only to the benefit of those who can afford to subscribe to very expensive databases. The Department of Library Services supports open access to all research conducted by members of the UP community, provided that patents, copyright and intellectual property rights issues are taken into account, and the laws that govern these issues are adhered to. Through making UP research output freely available for all to access and use, we would like to help increase the usage, impact and citation rate of research conducted by our members, as well as the visibility of the University of Pretoria on an international level.”

Free, unrestricted access is available to the following types of material on UPSpace:

  • Research articles in PDF or MSWord
  • UP Theses and Dissertations
  • Presentations
  • Conference papers
  • E-mails
  • Web pages
  • Sound files, e.g. speeches
  • Photos
  • Video files, e.g. television broadcasts, interviews/video clips of presentations
  • Newspaper and other media articles
  • Photos and other images
  • Books
  • Technical reports
  • Interviews
  • Qualitative and quantitative datasets
  • Maps
  • Research correspondence

UPSpace can be searched with a basic or advanced search or one can browse through specific communities and their collections. The communities “Veterinary Science” and “South African National Veterinary Repository” are relevant to Veterinary Science. These communities contain the Onderstepoort Journal of Veterinary Research 1903 - 2003, Research articles, theses, slides, photos, historical items such as old veterinary science books, Arnold Theiler memorial Lectures etc.

Many other databases may also be relevant for Veterinary Science, but are not considered to be core databases. Please access the complete list of Veterinary databases on the Veterinary Library’s Webpage.