What Doctors Could Learn From Veterinarians09:15
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A 15-day-old night monkey clutches the fingers of a veterinarian. (Fernando Vergara/AP)
A 15-day-old night monkey clutches the fingers of a veterinarian. (Fernando Vergara/AP)

Humans aren't the only ones who have heart attacks, develop cancer or eat because they are bored.

It turns out this happens to many animals, too. Health problems that we think are uniquely human turn out not to be so.

UCLA Medical Center cardiologist Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz argues that by not looking at animal health, doctors are holding back human medicine.

"Most species of animals, if they are given ready access to abundant food, they are going to over-consume."

Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz

She is the author of a new book called "Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health."

Natterson-Horowitz became interested in what human doctors could learn from their veterinarian colleagues through her work as a cardiac consultant at the Los Angeles Zoo and a co-director of UCLA’s Evolutionary Medicine Program.

With all these overlapping interests, Dr. Natterson-Horowitz saw that veterinarians and animal experts treated their patients very differently - and perhaps more effectively - than physicians treat their human patients.

Take obesity in animals, for example.

Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz is author of "Zoobiquity." (Joanna Brooks)
Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz is author of "Zoobiquity." (Joanna Brooks)

"When I see patients who are significantly overweight, I talk to them a lot about what we ought do. And most of the interventions have to do with them. They need to eat less, they need to exercise more,” Dr. Natterson-Horowitz told Here & Now.

But veterinarians she spoke with in the course of her work often look at the environmental problems that lead an animal to over eat.

“Most species of animals, if they are given ready access to abundant food, they are going to over-consume,” Dr. Natterson-Horowitz said. “One of the ways veterinarians will intervene is that they’ll make it harder for animals to access their food.”

Veterinarians and animal experts often make animals forage for their treats, or create obstacles before they can find the food.

And that is a perspective that has real consequences for human health, Dr. Natterson-Horowitz said.

“Some public health experts on the human side are beginning to also consider the obesity epidemic less as a problem about individual issues, and more of a landscape, an environmental problem," she said.

Guest:

This segment aired on March 28, 2013.

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