The seed for the establishment and growth of TANUVAS was sown as early as 1876, when the Madras Veterinary College was started as an Agricultural School in Chennai to offer diploma and certificate course in the field of veterinary and animal sciences. The institute attained the status of a college in the year 1903 (01.10.1903), when it started functioning at Dobbin Hall, Chennai and admitted 20 students for a three-year diploma course called GMVC (Graduate of Madras Veterinary College).
Based on the recommendation of the Royal Commission on Agriculture, the college was upgraded to impart degree in veterinary science. Although the college was the fourth veterinary institution to be started in India, it was first veterinary college in the country to be affiliated to a university, the University of Madras in 1935 and the Bachelor of Veterinary Science (B.V.Sc.) degree course was started in 1936. The University of Madras also recognized the college as a centre for postgraduate education. In 1969, the college was made as the Directorate of Veterinary Education and Research. The college was then academically affiliated to Tamilnadu Agricultural University (TNAU) in 1974 and became a constituent unit of TNAU in 1976. To meet the demand of veterinary education and research, a second veterinary college was started in Namakkal in the year 1985.
Realizing the importance of education research in animal and fisheries sciences so as to increase its productivity towards better income generation for the resource poor farmers, the government of Tamilnadu established the first veterinary and animal sciences university in Asia on 20th September 1989 with its head quarters at Chennai with the name Tamilnadu Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (popularly abbreviated as TANUVAS). The Fisheries College and Research Institute, Thoothukkudi was also made as another constituent college of this university. The mandates of the University are to impart education, to ensure advancement of learning and prosecution of research and to undertake extension to rural people in cooperation with the government departments in different branches of veterinary and animal sciences. It needs emphasis that in recognition of the University’s credentials, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research has accredited this university for a period of five years from 14.8.2001.
Two more veterinary colleges, one at Tirunelveli and another at Orathandu in Thanjavur district were started in the year 2012 - 13. The Institute of Food and Dairy Technology, Koduvalli, Chennai which was established in the year 1993 was upgraded as College of Food and Dairy Technology (CFDT) on 10.04.2012.
TANUVAS is an autonomous institution governed by its Board of Management which regulates the polices of the university in accordance with the provision of act and statues. The Planning Board and the Finance Committee of the university also support the University administration. While the Boards of Studies of Faculties and the Academic Council look after the academic pursuits of the University, the research policy of the university is watched over by the Research Council of the University. The Extension Education Council decides the policy with regard to the outreach programmes.