Zoobiquity – Barbara Natterson-Horowitz & Kathryn Bowers

Horowitz and Bowers are co-authors of Zoobiquity, a book that presents several cases of disease and disorder in animals that have profound connections to human health. The physician and New America Fellow respectively stressed the importance of a physician having at least some knowledge base in animal physiology. Through the discussion of their findings, they give specific examples of how much the medical and general population has to learn from animals, in order to improve on human diagnosis and treatment.

“Animals get every disease we get,” the authors explain, “Why don’t we work more with animals so we can take better care of each other?” They give several examples where their ideas hold true:

  • Tamarins at an L.A. Zoo were dieing from understudied capture myopathy, sudden heart failure from an adrenaline rush. This parallels Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy, a disorder in human discovered decades later.
  • Cancer has been discovered in the brain of a dinosaur.
  • Crows die quickly and experience the symptoms of West Nile before apparent in humans

If professionals in the human medical field had headed the warnings of veterinarians, or even had basic veterinary training, it is reasonable to conclude that our knowledge of human disease would be far more vast. And according to both authors, the understudied field of comparative oncology has a lot of potential, particularly with creating new models for scientific research (studying pet dogs, who share more commonalities with humans, as opposed to lab rats, for example).

One thing that stood out to me in the discussion was the spontaneity of animal disease, which the authors say most people do not understand. I knew animals developed disease, but I did not know how many parallels they drew with humans. One exception that came to my mind was a T.V. special I once saw on FIV, Feline immunodeficiency, a retrovirus affecting felines that is similar to HIV in humans. It is spread through deep bites and affects both wild and house cats.

Particularly fascinating was learning about the social problems animals develop and deal with that are remarkably human like. Dogs can develop addictions, birds (and other animals) can commit self-harm by over-plucking feathers, and many animals can develop eating disorders and depression. Before this presentation I thought these issues were uniquely human.

I think there is a lot to be learned from the study of animals. As Horowitz and Bowers have shown, animals not only develop many of the same diseases as humans, but also deal with some of the same mental and emotional disorders. If we can learn to diagnose and treat an advanced disease in a smaller organism, I believe this will lead to more effective cures and remedies in humans.

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