“Zoobiquity”, a term created by cardiologist and author Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, MD, looks at human health through the lens of what we share with Earth’s other creatures. By examining our shared vulnerabilities, zoobiquity can lead to new solutions for mental, emotional, and social health across all species.* This article explains how zoobiquity can inform our veterinary work and help us better serve both our patients and clients.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the veterinary profession showed that it is recession-proof. No one could have predicted the onslaught of appointments and increased demand for veterinary care, not only for existing patients, but many newly-acquired animals as well. Some clients were brand new pet owners seeking companionship during quarantine. Many were also anxiety-ridden. Veterinary teams found themselves overwhelmed and often depleted. However, as I reflect on the last 18 months, I see a different connection (see sidebar below).
THE CONCEPT OF MIRRORING
Perhaps you can think of cases where clients and their pets share the same disease. I call it mirroring. It happens not only with clinical signs, but also clinical findings on laboratory tests.
For example, I have sometimes told a client that their dog has protein in their urine, only to have them interject, “That’s weird, I have protein in my urine.” I go on to explain that the dog needs to be tested, and the owner often understands because they have had the same tests.
Hypothyroid disease is another common condition that pets and their owners will often share. The next time you diagnose a dog with hypothyroidism, pay attention to what the owner says. Another commonly-seen shared dynamic includes behavioral concerns. Do you recall clients exhibiting anxious behavior telling you how anxious their pets are too?
This mirroring phenomenon can be observed if you start to look for it. Not all the time, of course; but once you do find it, what does it mean and what should you do?
DIS-EASE AND RESISTANCE TO FLOW
The word “disease” breaks down into “dis” and “ease” (dis-ease), meaning there is a lack of ease that is causing the body to not function properly or maintain homeostasis. The origin of all disease, in the most simplistic terms, can be broken down into inflammation. Something becomes inflamed, initiating a cascade of events that then leads to a lack of homeostasis.
For example, a cat eats a mouse; the mouse has parasites that infect the cat. The parasites grow and cause inflammation in the cat’s gut. The cat stops eating and experiences episodes of vomiting and diarrhea initiated by the inflammation caused by the parasites in the gut.
Another example is a dog experiencing an adverse vaccine reaction. After coming home from a routine vaccination appointment, the owner realizes the dog’s face is swollen and the eyes are barely open. The dog is having an allergic reaction that is causing severe inflammation in the soft tissues of the face. Due to the swelling, the dog has difficulty breathing and starts pawing at his face.
In both cases, there is a cause or trigger, followed by inflammation, and then a response to the inflammation (resistance to flow such as vomiting, or pawing at the face). Without some type of intervention, the “dis-ease” will continue and the body will continue to react against the steady state where it should be.
Now, let’s look at humans. Our bodies are bombarded daily by the detrimental effects of computer screens, cell phones, microwaves, viruses, bacteria, foods (some healthy, some not), exercise (or lack thereof), sun exposure (or not), vaccinations, daily medicines, sleep (or lack of), polluted air, and chemicals on our clothes, in the air, and in our environment, as well as the interactions among these effects. All these factors, just as in animals, can contribute to dis-ease. The environments we choose to live and work in affect us, our loved ones, and our pets.
As veterinarians, we are fortunate to know and understand the function and dis-ease of many animals. We know that many species share the same diseases. For example, rabbits and horses have a similar build in terms of their digestive systems and share dis-eases like ileus and colic. We call them by different terms, but what happens is often the same. Something triggers the gut to move incorrectly, causing inflammation, gas and severe pain for the patient.
Cats and dogs are similar with regards to pancreatitis. This condition is often set off by a gastrointestinal (GI) disturbance that inflames the pancreas as well. Isn’t it intriguing that humans who have pancreatitis also have underlying GI disease? We are all connected. We share dis-ease. As complicated as we have made medicine, in its most simplistic form it boils down to inflammation causing a resistance to the flow of normal homeostasis.
So why do pets mirror humans? Often, our dis-ease does not come from a parasite or the food we eat, but the space and environment we share. This shared environment includes everything from the water we drink, to the air we breathe, to the energy in the spaces around us. Humans who are under an unbearable amount of stress, whether self-induced or from sources beyond their control, can pass this energy to their pets.
Let’s examine this concept through the common phrase, “when it rains it pours.” An unexpected negative incident happens in your life. You may then catch a cold, for example; then it seems your cat gets sick, and subsequently your son as well. Why does this happen all at once?
Many believe in the Law of Attraction, which states that energy attracts more of the same kind of energy. Atoms are bouncing all over the place, constantly in motion, generating chemical reactions on the smallest of levels. This energy cumulatively affects all living beings — people, dogs, cats, horses and wildlife. The energy that affects humans affects animals too. I think it’s pertinent for us to start thinking on the “energy level” to better understand this connection and help unlock dis-ease.
SHARED ENERGY AND A PATH FORWARD
I propose that this theory of energy connection is the foundation of zoobiquity. The connection we share with one another and our pets has not been formally studied in this realm, but the pandemic has given us an avenue to see how our stressors (energy) affect ourselves and others (pets.) At no other time have we treated so many sick patients.
Our pets and children are our greatest teachers. They reflect back to us what we need to work on. Have you ever had your dog or child incessantly bark or talk at you while you were on the phone? They want you to be present with them; and perhaps they know better than we do what is healthful for us.
I challenge you to pay attention and look for this energy connection in your patients and clients. If you recognize it, I encourage you to recommend that the client see a medical professional to get help for their own dis-ease or stress. I believe this is an area we need to focus on in order to understand dis-ease more fully; our energy and the energies that surround us can contribute to dis-ease or well-being in ourselves and our pets.
*Natterson-Horowitz B, Bowers, K. Zoobiquity: The astonishing connection between human and animal health. A.A. Knopf; 2012.