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Entries in Zoobiquity (1)

Tuesday
Jun122012

'Zoobiquity': 7 Diseases Animals Share With Humans

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz is a sort of modern day Dr. Dolittle.

For the past six years, the UCLA cardiologist has been consulting with the Los Angeles Zoo to help treat diseases found in animals. Natterson-Horowitz said she was surprised to learn how much human and veterinary medicine have in common.

"Animals suffer from almost all of the diseases that human beings do, but veterinarians and physicians never talk about this," she said. "Physicians have not typically, traditionally, seen veterinarians as their clinical peers and that's unfortunate."

Her work became the focus of her new book, Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us about Health and the Science of Healing, which she co-wrote with science writer Kathryn Bowers. The book calls for an approach to medicine that crosses the species barrier. It argues that studying diseases found in both a human and an animal could save both lives.

Natterson-Horowitz's work at the zoo began after she attended a sleepover at the LA Zoo with her young daughter. She struck up a conversation with some of the veterinarians who ended up enlisting her help in cardiac cases.

Here are just seven examples of diseases shared by humans and animals:

1. Heart Disease


One of her first experiences dealing with animal patients came when she examined Cookie the lioness. The big cat had been diagnosed with fluid in the sac around heart -- a potentially fatal condition.

Natterson-Horowitz said what amazed her most was that the zoo veterinarians made Cookie's diagnosis not with a battery of expensive tests -- as they would at UCLA. Instead it was old-fashioned observation, like they used to teach in medical school.

Veterinarians, she said, are the ultimate general practitioners,dealing with a wide range of species including mammals, reptiles and insects. Also, unlike human patients, the animals can't describe their symptoms to their doctors. The vets have to be keen observers.

After that experience, Natterson-Horowitz said she began looking at her human patients differently.

In Zoobiquity, the authors note that animals can experience heart attacks and many species can be frightened to death. Sudden cardiac death, a leading cause of death in humans, can also have "a fear trigger," Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote. However, they also acknowledged that physicians have been "skeptical of linking high emotion and cardiac death in humans."

2. Breast Cancer

According to Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers, certain types of breast cancer have been found a number of mammals.

Their list includes jaguars, cougars, tigers, sea lions, kangaroos, wallabies, beluga whales, alpacas and llamas.

Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers note that the only group of mammals in which breast cancer is rarely found are with the "professional lactators," meaning dairy cows and goats.

3. Skin Cancer

Dr. Curtis Eng, the Los Angeles Zoo's chief veterinarian, said the zoo has come to rely on human specialists like Natterson to help treat its animals.

"There are a lot of medical conditions that we just don't know enough about to treat the animal fully," he told ABC'S Nightline.

So when Rhonda the rhino was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer, on her horn, the zoo brought in one of UCLA's top oncologists. Rhonda even underwent surgery to remove it and is now cancer free.

4. Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma, a common type of bone cancer that forced Ted Kennedy Jr. to undergo a leg amputation in 1973, is the leading cause of death in golden retrievers, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote in their book Zoobiquity.

This disease has also been found in the bones of wolves, grizzly bears, camels, polar bears, some reptiles, fish and birds, according to the authors.

5. Obesity and Diabetes

Zoo animals not only can suffer from obesity, but diabetes is fairly common, in part because the animals eat food that has been genetically modified for human consumption.

In their book, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote that various animals in the wild will experience binge-eating, secret-eating, nocturnal-eating and food-hoarding, which could suggest a link between humans and "ancestral eating strategies."

6. STDs

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins suffer genital warts, baboons can get herpes, syphilis is rampant among rabbits, just to name a few sexually-transmitted diseases affecting animals that Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers note in their book.

"Wild animals don't practice safe sex," Natterson-Horowitz said. "Of course they get STDs."

In fact, an epidemic of sexually transmitted Chlamydia has devastated koala populations in Australia. Wildlife biologists Down Under are so concerned about it, they are working on a vaccine for Chlamydia in koalas. There is currently no Chlamydia vaccine for humans.

At the same time, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote that 1 in 4 humans worldwide will die of an STD.

7. Erectile Dysfunction

Horses can experience erectile dysfunction, the authors said. But there's no Viagra for them. Instead vets take a more holistic approach.

"I found that veterinarians are more comfortable talking about the sexuality of their animals then physicians sometimes are," Natterson said. "We are told in medical school to talk with our patients about their sexuality, but sometimes it's easier to talk to a patient about whether they have chest pain walking up a flight of stairs or not, then immediately getting into their sexual life."

Through her research, Natterson-Horowitz said stallions not only have been found to experience erectile dysfunction, they can have sexual dysfunction if they were bred too young or have an upsetting first sexual experience with a mare.

But acknowledging the similarities between humans and animals from a medical perspective does have bigger implications. How does the Zoobiquity approach apply, for instance, to the controversial issue of animal testing?

One could argue Zoobiquity is an argument for more animal testing, because of the similarities among different species, or Zoobiquity could be the basis for a moral argument against animal testing, because we share more in common than we think with the animal kingdom.

Should the Hippocratic Oath -- to do no harm -- apply to hippos? Natterson-Horowitz couldn't say.

"I can't give you a simple answer," she said, "because it's a very complicated, nuanced question."

But, she argued, doctors and veterinarians should have a lot to teach each other.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio