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Zoobiquity: Physicians, Veterinarians Collaborate For Better Treatments

BOSTON (CBS) - Do you have a pet? No doubt you share love and affection. But you could share similar health problems, too, everything from anxiety to cancer. Dr. Mallika Marshall takes a closer look at how veterinarians and physicians are now working together to help all of us.

"Completely shocked." That's how Jeff Scholes of Andover felt when he was told his 10 year old Norwich Terrier, Chien, had a dangerous heart rhythm and without surgery, could die. "I told them anything you need to do to fix him," says Jeff. "Just go for it."

So just like a human with a cardiac pacemaker, doctors at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts Medical Center gave Chien a pacemaker, and now his heart is ticking away at a healthy rate.

Chien is one of 10-15% of dogs who will develop heart disease at some point in their lifetime. Now physicians and veterinarians are trying to come up with better ways to treat both humans and animals for a variety of ailments. It's something called Zoobiquity.

It's a term coined by Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and a colleague. Horowitz explains, "When physicians learn about veterinary medicine, about the science of veterinary medicine, about the power of understanding your disease by looking at its presentation in different species, not just in homo-sapiens, then we can think in a deeper ways about these problems."

Common problems in humans like diabetes, breast cancer, anxiety, fractures, even autism, are found in other species.

Veterinarian Lisa Freeman, whose own dog, Penny, suffered from a heart defect, says including animals like Penny in clinical trials on human drugs is a win-win for pets and people. "We can be on the cutting edge with the most advanced treatments possible," she says, "So that they can participate and their animal can benefit from those treatments first. That can be really wonderful for the animals as well to help advance science," Freeman adds.

Science that has enabled Chien to gain a lot more in dog years. "We call him bionic now," says Jeff. "I always said he would last for 30 years, now it actually might happen."

There have been five Zoobiquity conferences around the United States. The last one just took place here in Boston at the end of April. The collaboration between veterinarians and physicians is expected to grow.

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