Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us About Health and the Science of Healing is a thoroughly entertaining book with important insights about connections between human and other animals' health. The authors, a cardiologist from the UCLA Medical Center and a health writer have described many conditions that we thought of as human illness that are shared with other species. Though the two shared the authorship, for purposes of story-telling, the book is told in the voice of the Dr. Natterson-Horowitz.
She tells the story of a request by the Los Angeles zoo to help with a heart operation on a tiny Emperor Tamarin; as she often did in dealing with patients, especially children, she brought her face close to the tamarin, looked her in the eye and explained she would be helping her. The veterinarian asked her not to make eye contact with the animal as that was an act of aggression and could result in the animal having capture myopathy. She later found the disease had been long known to veterinarians; when an animal is captured it can have an adrenalin jolt so strong that it can poison their muscles, including injuring the heart. In the early 2000s cardiologists discovered the syndrome in humans, called takotsubo cardiomyopathy in which the patient exhibits strong chest pain and abnormal ECG. Although these are heart attack symptoms, the patient has only a bulge in the left ventricle. The syndrome occurs when the patient has had a terrible experience. This is the first of many illnesses and conditions described by the authors that are shared by humans and other animals.
The links between species is illustrated by the concept of homology, the study of organs in different species which have the same underlying structure and have genetic similarities. These genetic kernels explain how genes taken from a sighted mouse and placed into a blind fruitfly cause the insect to grow structurally accurate fly eyes. What an interesting and important concept!
On the topic of eating disorders, Dr. Natterson-Horowitz tells of seeing fear in the eyes of a 14-year old hospitalized for anorexia who must try to eat a turkey sandwich. The many variations of eating disorders of are mirrored in the behavior of animals in the wild for whom coming out in the open to eat is indeed a risky behavior. The authors speculate that these fears in humans related to psychological conditions are deep in our genetic code.
I have hardly scratched the surface here; there are lots of wonderful stories that illustrate the connections among species. There's the rampant epidemic of clap among koalas — it's so hard to get them to practice safe sex. And then there are the overweight dragonflies who, unlike the zippy dragonflies we think of, are languid.