Can Animals Teach Us About Human Health?
Do killer whales get Hodgkins Lymphoma? Can a Jack Russell terrier have breast cancer? What animals get STDs? Science journalist, Katherine Bowers and UCLA cardiology professor, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz explore lessons on healing from the animal world in their new book, Zoobiquity. Natterson-Horowitz changed her approach to human health care after realizing the strong connection between human and animal health during an examination of a tamarind at the LA Zoo. Called in to consult with veterinarians about the monkey’s weak heart, Natterson-Horowitz tried establishing a connection with the South American primate by looking lovingly into the animal’s eyes. Zoo staff asked her to stop making eye contact with the tamarind as it could trigger “capture myopathy,” a fear reaction that can release enough adrenalin to induce heart failure.
Similar emotional or physical stress triggers called ‘tako‐tsubo’ cardiomyopathy or ‘transient left ventricular apical ballooning’ happen in humans but are treated differently than vets treat capture myopathy. And another commonality can be found with White Coat Syndrome–a stress reaction some human patients have when making eye contact with a doctor.
Zoobiquity is full of insights into the nature of diseases, including mental health. Pet parents will recognize many parallels including the ways that both cats and people find a sense of relief in grooming. The soothing behaviors of cats licking themselves clean or monkeys picking at fur share commonality with human grooming behaviors including hair twirling and touching a hand to one’s cheek.
As it turns out, animals do get STDs. Bowers and Natterson-Horowitz investigated an epidemic of Chlamydia in Australian koala bears. And yes, killer whales have been found with lymphoma and dogs get breast cancer. In fact, most emerging infections come from the animal population. The book presents case studies and compelling research about vets and physicians working together to find healing solutions for world health challenges like West Nile and Lyme’s disease.
Reminds me of a joke. What do you call a vet who treats just one species? A doctor!
Monkey image: Copyright Jill Greenburg courtesy of ClampArt Gallery, NYC
Sources: PBS; New York Times