Zoobiquity

At the Zoobiquity discussion, Gwen Macsai, host of Re:sound interviewed Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist at the UCLA Medical Center and Kathryn Bowers the authors of the book Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing. The discussion explained how both authors came up with the conclusion that by studying animal diseases, we can also gain a better understanding of human diseases. Both authors also shared some of their experiences and details included in the book as well as giving some insight to the tension between veterinarians and physicians.

The most moving and eye – opening detail presented was the physician joke, something along the lines of, “a physician is merely a veterinarian that only deals with one species.” As an aspiring doctor for humans (I’m way too fearful of animals to even consider becoming a vet) I realized that I never really thought about veterinarians and the importance of their job. I have had a few pets in my life but my parents usually took them to visit the vet so I’ve never actually interacted with a vet. And like Ms. Bowers pointed out there is cultural tension between physicians and veterinarian which was not obvious to me before I went to this discussion. I never gave any thought to animal diseases mostly because I was too busy focusing on human problems. However, after the discussion I realized that it was ignorant of me to not even consider that animals get the same diseases as humans, cancer, heart attacks, STDs, etc. What was even more surprising was finding out that animals too can self-mutilate themselves, get intoxicated, take drugs, and do things that I only associated with human behavior. I felt very egotistical because I only gave importance to human diseases and disorders while so many animals out there are dying of the same problems with no one to help them. What was surprising to me was when both Ms. Bowers and Dr. Natterson – Horowitz mentioned that some physicians did not consider animal diseases important and said that people need to focus more on humans. I don’t think these people realize that animals are just as important as humans and they can really help us understand more about human diseases.

Dr. Natterson – Horowitz and Ms. Bowers coined the term “zoobiquity” to describe the concept of looking to animals and the doctors who care for them to better understand human health. The book discusses many of the human health concerns that animals too suffer from such as heart attacks from stress, diabetes, STDs, etc. Before the discussion, I had thought that because our anatomy is different from other animals making connections and relating to their diseases would not be possible. However, I was surprised to find that by studying how heart attacks work in animals we can figure out how to prevent heart attacks in humans. Dr. Natterson – Horowitz mentioned that animals suffer from capture myopathy, too much adrenaline rush that poisons the heart, similar to when humans get heart failure from grief or extreme fear.

Another thing that surprised me was how much animals can help us understand and prevent diseases from spreading. Dr. Natterson – Horowitz talked about how she noticed crows were starting to get sick, falling out of the sky and stumbling around, or dying. This was also happening to the birds in the zoo. A couple of days later, humans were also experiencing the same symptoms. When Dr. Natterson – Horowitz called the Center for Disease Control, multiple times, they looked into it declared it as St. Louis encephalitis despite Dr. Natterson – Horowitz insisting that it was something else because birds don’t get sick and die from St. Louis encephalitis. The CDC however, ignored her and she ended up going to another research facility and discovering that it was actually the West Nile Virus causing all the deaths. This anecdote really drove home the concept of zoobiquity because if not for Dr. Natterson – Horowitz’s veterinarian experience it would have taken even longer to figure out that it was the West Nile Virus and not St. Louis encephalitis. It was even more surprising to find out that the CDC just sort of ignored Dr. Natterson – Horowitz rather than at least even considering her claim. I think that it is extremely important for physicians and veterinarians to come together and share their knowledge because both can learn a lot from each other.

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