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'Zoobiquity': What animals can teach us about our health

Did you know that dragonflies can become obese? That koalas get Chlamydia? Or that cancer dates back to the dinosaurs?

In fact, animals suffer from a lot of the same medical maladies as humans, and these days, zoos across the country are bringing physicians in to consult with veterinarians.

In 2005, Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, a cardiologist at UCLA Medical Center became one of them when she was called to treat an unusual patient at the Los Angeles Zoo.

“I was doing cardiac ultrasound – which is imaging of the heart of a chimpanzee and some other animals,” explained Natterson–Horowitz. “And I was listening to the veterinarians talking and they talk about diabetes and obesity and cancer.”

Natterson-Horowitz thought it would be interesting to look at human diseases through the lens of veterinary medicine, so she decided to write a book based on her experiences.

The book, "Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach us About Health and the Science of Healing," outlines the parallels between human and animal medical conditions.

“Obesity is a significant problem among cats and dogs, our companion animals – up to 40 percent of them are now overweight,” Natterson-Horowitz said. “Even sexually transmitted diseases. Koalas get chlamydia, killer whales with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. There are many, many parallels.”

Natterson-Horowitz was surprised to find that animals also suffered from psychological disorders similar to those of humans.

“There's a self-starving syndrome in some pigs that looks like anorexia nervosa,” Natterson-Horowitz said. “Some animals injure themselves the way some human beings injure themselves.”

Knowing that animals of many kinds suffer from these problems as well I think will help patients understand their problems more, she added.

Natterson-Horowitz said she hopes "Zoobiquity" helps to encourage physicians and patients to reach across the species divide and talk to veterinarians to learn about animals with shared problems.

For more information, log on to Zoobiquity.com.