If your dog’s vet and your OB/GYN got together, do you think they’d have much to talk about? They could probably share common ground on the obesity epidemic, which both people and our pets are struggling from. They may be able to talk about how both you and your canine companion are predisposed to breast cancer, depending on her breed. In fact, vets and doctors actually have a lot in common–and, to treat both humans and other animals the best way possible, they should probably be talking more. That’s the subject of Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health And The Science Of Healing, a new book by Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and Kathryn Bowers.
“Zoobiquity” is, according to the book’s website, “the term the authors have coined to refer to a new, species-spanning approach to health.” Which is a truly fascinating idea–what have we been missing by assuming that any and all diseases are human-specific?
Being that I am a person with a vested interest in health (oh, have we met? I write for this website about health) and animals (because I am a part-time crazy dog lady), I wanted to ask Dr. Natterson-Horowitz, who is a cardiologist and psychiatrist at the UCLA Medical Center, and Bowers, who’s a science writer and editor, some questions about subjects raised in the book–like what animals can teach us about cancer, sexually transmitted infections, mental illness, eating disorders, and obesity, as well as what medical breakthroughs we could be missing out on by assuming human and animal illnesses are entirely divergent. Here’s our conversation, which was long and fascinating.
I guess my first question really is, Dr. Natterson-Horowitz, you explained this in the book, but where did the idea for comparing animal and human medicine come from?
Dr. Natterson-Horowitz: Well, the idea that animals and humans are similar isn’t new. And within medicine, and in the lab, animals and humans are compared. And centuries ago, there was more comparison.
But in the last several decades, in clinical medicine–that’s what we call the medicine that’s practiced by doctors who care of me and my family–there just is very little awareness that animals and humans get the same diseases. So when I had this opportunity to spend some time at the zoo, I just had this little epiphany like, “Wow, veteranarians are practicing the same kind of medicine that we are, and animals and humans are sharing the same disease.” That’s something that I think that pediatricians, and gynecologists, and psychiatrists, and their patients ought to know about.