Home
Healthy Living
Print|Email|Text Size: ||
Species-Spanning Medicine

In the book Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us about Health and the Science of Healing, Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist who consults with the Los Angeles Zoo, delves into the many sicknesses we share with animals. (Editor’s note: For a review of Zoobiquity, see the October 2012 issue of Bark.)

Co-authored by Kathryn Bowers, the book points out that not only humans get breast cancer, but kangaroos, beluga whales, wallabies and sea lions—to name a few—do as well. Rhinos get skin cancer; gorillas get depressed; horses suffer from erectile dysfunction; and sexually transmitted diseases plague the non-human world as well, from syphilis in rabbits to chlamydia in koalas.

By looking at the big picture, we’re likely to further our understanding of species-spanning diseases, of the planet and of the environmental factors that contribute to ill health. Two annual conferences on zoobiquity have urged medical practitioners to do just that.

In terms of the latter, dogs, once again, serve as prime examples and perfect models. They sleep in our beds, share our food, lie on our flame-retardant-treated couches and frolic on our insecticide-treated lawns. When we go for a walk, it’s usually with them at our sides or pulling us along behind them.

They may soon lead the way in science as well, as rodents take a back seat when it comes to research examining the role environmental factors, such as secondhand smoke and household chemicals, play in causing disease. While much of it was going on years before the AMA-AVMA declaration was announced or the term “zoobiquity” was coined, research involving dogs (and cats) is increasingly looking at the link between pollutants and cancer.

On top of the fact that the canine genome is 80 to 90 percent similar to that of the human, dogs are constantly at our sides, making them perfect candidates for studying not just cures but also, causes.

Since dogs are such accessible and efficient, not to mention friendly, models, the question arises (or at least ought to): should one health/one medicine/zoobiquity—and more particularly, the view of dogs and other animals as sources of solution to our own diseases—raise animal welfare concerns?

Despite their all-inclusive, holistic and harmonious sounding names, none of the calls for a species-spanning approach to medicine state that all animals are our equals, or that their value parallels that of humans. Only that they get many of the same diseases we do.

As cures come closer and as dogs are increasingly seen as the road to such cures, could our zeal lead to what animal-welfare advocates might see as reckless driving?

The book Zoobiquity points out that in virtually all of the examples it uses, animals involved in the research were already sick. When, on ABC’s “Nightline,” Natterson-Horowitz was asked if the concept could lead to testing on healthy animals—if the Hippocratic Oath of “do no harm” should apply, for instance, to hippos—she replied, “I can’t give you a simple answer, because it’s a very complicated, nuanced question.”

Breen, for his part, doesn’t hesitate. “We don’t induce cancers in dogs. The key issue about cancers, and many genetic diseases in our dogs, is that these are all spontaneous conditions … All the dogs in our study are part of a family, sharing their homes and their lives. The path to discovery involving cancer and our dogs is one we walk along side-by-side with the owners.

“We have access to state-of-the-art technologies to ask key questions, but these are worthless without the willingness of the dog-owning community to collaborate by submitting cancer specimens from their dogs. By building a strong relationship with pet owners, and realizing that their pets are like family members, like a child … it actually means the chances of ever inducing disease are less. I just can’t see it happening; it wouldn’t happen in my lab, let’s put it that way.”

Breen’s bigger fear, when comes to biomedical research, “is that all this will raise people’s hopes too high and too soon.”

Print|Email
CommentsPost a Comment
Please note comments are moderated. After being approved your comment will appear below.
Submitted by Anonymous | April 26 2013 |

Dear John Woestendiek, I don't wish to offend you but I don't want my dog to be used as an experiment though I realize the benefit of the medical community to enhance the life of my dog so I agree what you have written on page 1 of your article to some extent, but I've lost too many cats to experiments. There seems to be a conflict of interest what the National Center for Infectious Diseases says about dogs, which doesn't refer to the same link that you provide in your article.

I have a dog and a cat. I am their Mother. They think I am their Mother and I agree with them.:) I've had them since they both were around 2 weeks old:) I've invested a lot of love and energy into their health and welfare. Please consider they are my children since I was never able to have children.

Page 2 of your article John states, “Dogs, long our antidote for loneliness, may hold the most promise of all animals when it comes to solving medical mysteries and curing what ails us.”

My comment from the National Center from Infectious Diseases states:
Pets can decrease your:
Blood pressure
Cholesterol levels
Triglyceride levels
Feelings of loneliness

Pets can increase your:
Opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities
Opportunities for socialization
http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/health_benefits.htm

Regarding page 5 and 6 of the article by John Woestendiek, my comment from the National Center from Infectious Diseases:
Diseases from Dogs
Although dogs can pass germs to people, you are not likely to get sick from touching or owning dogs. To best protect yourself from getting sick, thoroughly wash your hands with running water and soap after contact with dogs, dog saliva, or dog feces (stool).
Dogs can carry a variety of germs that can make people sick. Some of these germs are common and some are rare. For example, puppies may pass the bacterium Campylobacter in their feces (stool). This germ can cause diarrhea in people. Puppies and some adult dogs often carry a variety of parasites that can cause rashes or illness in people. Less often, dogs in urban or rural areas can carry the bacterium Leptospira (lep-TO-spy-ruh). This germ causes the disease leptospirosis (lep-to-spi-roh-sis) in people and animals. Dogs can also carry rabies, a deadly viral disease. Rabies from dogs is rare in the United States.
Some people are more likely than others to get diseases from dogs. A person's age and health status may affect his or her immune system, increasing the chances of getting sick. People who are more likely to get diseases from dogs include infants, children younger than 5 years old, organ transplant patients, people with HIV/AIDS, and people being treated for cancer.
http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/animals/dogs.htm

I understand the importance of scientific research since I too am a researcher. Thank you for your consideration in this matter. Best wishes to you.

More From The Bark

dog in the mud
By
Claudia Kawczynska
By
John Woestendiek
By
Tom McNulty
More in Healthy Living:
Vet School Profile: Colorado State University
Looking for Dr Right
Nail Trimming Tips
Winter Paw Tips
Seniors Dogs & Humans
Fetching Germs
Dog Washing Tips
GI Involvement in Behaviorial Issues
10 Easy Tips for Cleaning Up After Your Dog
Teach Senior Dogs New Tricks to Stay Healthy