Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What doctors can learn from vets, and what on earth is zoobiquity

Can doctors learn about managing self-harm in humans from vets who manage feather-plucking?
When I went through vet school our vet society proclaimed a t-shirt that shouted “real doctors treat more than one species.” Now the term “one health” has become such a buzz-word people are taking the claim seriously. Doctors and veterinarians have more in common than the use of the honorary term “doctor” (a REAL doctor actually has a PhD – but that’s another can of worms).

Cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz gave this fantastic talk on TedMED about medicine’s blind spot about the commonalities between animals and humans. You can watch the video by clicking this link or see below.

Dr Natterson-Horowitz dealt exclusively with human patients until she was contacted by a zoo to check out a chimp with a suspected stroke. One animal consult lead to another and she was checking out gorillas, lions, exotic birds.
She realised that she had had, until then, a hidden bias in her thinking: “……I feel that tug of human exceptionalism even as I recognise the scientifically isolating cost of seeing ourselves as a superior species apart.”

She began to ask herself “might I be taking better care of my patient if I saw them as a human-animal patient?”

For example, in 2000 doctors believed they “discovered” emotionally induced heart failure. It was reported in a gambler who lost his life savings in one hit, and a bride who was dumped at the altar. But this wasn’t new, nor was it uniquely human. Veterinarians had recognised fear induced heart failure for some time.

Doctors, she argues, could learn much from veterinary management of self-harm, post-partum depression and psychosis, separation anxiety and various cancers.

To take full advantage of these commonalities, UCLA embeds animal experts and evolutionary biologists in its medical rounds. Similarly, zoobiquity conferences facilitate collaboration disorders that human and animal patients have in common.

The Centre for Veterinary Education is running its first zoobiquity conference in Sydney.
I hadn’t heard the term zoobiquity til recently. The word, used by Natterson-Horowitz and colleague Kathryn Bowers in their book of the same name, refers to the link between human and animal health. (I'm still not quite clear on how or why zoobiquity is different to One Health but that will come I am sure).

As it happens, the Centre for Veterinary Education has just announced its first zoobiquity conference in February, around the important theme of nutrition:
Animals and humans get many of the same diseases yet human physicians and veterinarians rarely share their knowledge. Zoobiquity explores how the commonality of animals and humans can be used to diagnose, treat, and heal patients of all species. Drawing on the latest insights from both medical and veterinary science – as well as evolutionary biology and molecular genetics – Zoobiquity proposes an integrated, interdisciplinary approach to physiological, nutritional and behavioural health.
The Centre for Veterinary Education, the Sydney Medical School and the Charles Perkins Centre from the University of Sydney are thrilled to be hosting the first Australian Zoobiquity Conference in Sydney in 2015, the first such conference to be held outside North America. The theme is nutrition and disease in man and companion animals. Given that our companion animals share every aspect of our modern lifestyle, it is not surprising that, along with humans, our dogs and cats are suffering an obesity epidemic. What may not be obvious is our companion animals have encountered changes to their diet like our own – an increased intake of highly refined, calorie dense, nutritionally questionable foods.  
Our multidisciplinary program will go back to basics. What is the epidemiology of adiposity in Australia? What are the macronutrients we need for good nutritional health? What drives the desire for these macronutrients? How much salt do we need, how much water should we drink, and how much exercise should we get commensurate with our lifestyle? Dogs are obligate carnivores – should we forget the packaged food and return their diet in part to raw meaty bones? How does diet impact periodontal disease and how does periodontal disease impact health?
We have an outstanding line up of speakers who include zoologists, nutritional ecologists, microbiologists, molecular biologists, veterinary dentists, dietitians and human and veterinary physicians. We expect an invaluable cross-pollination of ideas as well as discussion and controversy. An unlikely debate may ensue with industry representatives from pet food companies.
What better theme to kick off with. With more animals and humans suffering from nutrition related diseases, including diabetes and obesity, than ever, its about time doctors and vets put their heads together. For further info, download the brochure here.