I’ve been reading Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD and Kathryn Bowers. The book was first published in 2013, but I found a paperback copy while browsing recently in a well-known bookstore chain.  The premise is intriguing and not something I had previously thought about.  The book introduces the idea that almost every illness we see in humans is also seen in animals.  Although sometimes the diseases have different names. 

Veterinarians see these illnesses, make advances, and find treatment options.  They often reference human studies to learn more.  However, our doctors seldom consult veterinarians nor their body of research.  

This is not a book about animal testing.  The authors promote a better understanding of how animals live, get sick, heal, or die in their natural environments.  Lessons learned can benefit humans as well as other species, if only we pay attention.

Koala
Koala Image by Syahir Hakim from Pixabay

Examples of animal diseases include:

  • Jaguars get breast cancer and sometimes carry the same BRCA1 genetic mutation that predisposes cancer in a subset of humans.  
  • Koalas get chlamydia from unprotected sex.  Yes, I know, in animals it’s all unprotected.  
  • Animals even get mental health disorders.  Octopuses sometimes cause self-injury.  Some parrots have an OCD-like feather-picking disorder.  Some horses compulsively bite themselves.  
  • Some animals even faint.  It’s often a protective reaction.  Additional research suggests that perhaps in humans, it is an inherited biological safety response, not a weakness or failure. 

The list of commonalities includes almost any clinical condition you can think of: osteoarthritis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, diabetes, urinary tract infections, atrial fibrillation, cancers, anxiety, Crohn’s Disease, as well as insights into the origins of bullying, just to name a few.  

The idea that animals and even some plants have similar diseases as humans, was first defined as Comparative Medicine in a 1927 publication.  Since then, the renamed concept of One Health, One Medicine has slow adoption amongst the human medical profession.   However, those involved in this research now recognize that ‘One World’ is an essential part of the description.  

As much as we’d like to think that we are ‘other’ or ‘above’ our fellow creatures, we are not.  We are dependent on them for insight and understanding.  And they, on us. 

Perhaps One World, One Health, One Medicine principles will lead us to better healthcare for all species. 

To learn more about Zoobiquity, check out the website here:  https://www.zoobiquity.com/

2 thoughts on “Always Learning — Comparing Humans and Animals

  1. Арсений says:

    So far, comparative experiments have shown that this ability to use hierarchical syntax may be unique to humans. In one series of experiments, researchers attempted to teach hierarchical grammar to two different species of birds: pigeons and keas. Keas are a type of parrot native to New Zealand, and they’re known for being extremely clever. Rather than using recordings of speech, the researchers trained the birds to recognize different visual patterns of abstract shapes. Even the pigeons — not the smartest birds — were able to master the simple sequential patterns, but although they underwent weeks of intensive training, both groups of birds failed to learn the more complex grammar.

    • Great information! I had not seen this about complex grammar. It does make me wonder if there might not be a different species that would be able to master it. Thanks for posting.

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