Effects on Physical Health: The Mind-Body Connection
Michael W. Fox,
B.Vet.Med, Ph.D., D.Sc., MRCVS
Western human and veterinary medicine still bear the legacy of French
philosopher Rene’ Descartes (1970), who promoted the false dualism of the mind
being separate from the body, and the belief that animals were unfeeling
machines. Such mechanomorphization of
non-human animals became the scientific consensus that condemned the belief and
empirical evidence of emotional states in animals as sentimentally misguided
anthropomorphism. In spite of Charles
Darwin's work (notably his book The
Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals), and other scientists’ and
philosophers’ opposition to Cartesian dualism and mechanistic reductionism, the
resistance to accepting that animals have minds and emotions endured for over
three hundred years since Descartes, especially in scientific, biomedical, and
related circles of animal use and abuse, in part because of even deeper
religious and cultural attitudes toward non-human life (Fox 1996). As late as
the 1960s skepticism was expressed by some veterinarians over empirical
evidence that dogs will feign injury to a limb in order to seek attention (Fox
1962). Some members of the profession scoffed at such evidence, contending that
they would be called on to be pet shrinks or behavioral therapists, while
others acknowledged the need for more expertise and research in normal and
abnormal behavior in animals.
The mind-body/psyche-soma dichotomization greatly
limited progress in human, veterinary, and comparative medicine, and
contributed to much animal cruelty and suffering. This was compounded by specialization
that led to the
‘fragmentation’ of seeing and treating the animal and human patient as a whole
being, and of the conceptualization of health and disease processes. Another
product of dualism and reductionism
was the dichotomization of the essential organism-environment unity that tended
to preclude the consideration and recognition of social and environmental
influences on mind and body; i.e., on the animals’ emotional and physical
depends upon animal well-being, the bioethical and scientific parameters and
indices of which include provision of an environment (the ecos) that is optimal
for animals’ basic physical, behavioral, and
psychological requirements (their ethos,
or spirits), and which maximizes animals’ telos,
their natural, ecological purpose and biological value and role (Fox
2001). Human imposed and directed
influences on animals’ ecos include
housing/husbandry conditions and standards of care and environmental quality;
on animals’ telos include economic,
cultural and other human values and interests; and on animals’ ethos, as
affected by selective
breeding, genetic engineering as well as early handling and socialization, or
lack thereof. (See Fig.1)
These three spheres
of animal life, ethos, ecos and telos translate into the mind-body-organism-environment interfaces
that provide a more holistic paradigm for addressing animal health and welfare
concerns (Fox 1997).
Since the mind is
in the body, the body is in the mind. Likewise, since the elephant is in the
forest and the forest is in the elephant, how can we put elephants in chains
and force them to help people destroy the last of their forests, or put them in
circuses and zoos and expect them to be healthy and reproduce and not go
berserk? Elephants and other animals
wild and domesticated under our dominion surely need not have to be victims of
such mind-body-environment dislocations that result in suffering and distress.
Only in the last
fifty years have scientists, bioethicists, and veterinarians begun to consider
the stress, distress, and suffering of animals under conditions of extreme and
chronic confinement and environmental deprivation, often coupled with
inconceivably high stocking densities (as with the intensive production of
farmed animals). Such mistreatment
creates pathogenic conditions, especially as a result of stress and
immunosuppression, for the proliferation of infectious and contagious
‘domestogenic’ and production-related diseases (Fox 1984 & 1986). These
animal health and welfare problems are
significant economic and public health concerns that will not be rectified by
new vaccines, stronger antibiotics, and other drugs that are not all
environmentally-friendly and consumer-safe.
Neither can the answer lie in selectively breeding and genetically
engineering animals for the food, fiber, and biomedical purposes; nor is it to
be found in the pet industries designed to enhance the animals’ utility,
productivity, and adaptability.
This is because
there are biological limitations that should translate into ethical limitations
in how we should alter the ethos and ecos
of animals for our own pecuniary
and other purely human ends (Fox 1992 & 1999).
Before reviewing some landmark studies, old
and new, of the mind-body connection and the influence of emotional and
cognitive states and environmental influences on animals’ health and
well-being, I wish to summarize the above overview of principles of optimal
animal care. The following five
bioethical principles combine to make a simple formula to help ensure animals’
health and well-being: Right Environment
+ Right Genetics/Breeding + Right Understanding
+ Right Relationship + Right Nutrition
= Animal Health and Well-being.
principles within the holistic paradigm that addresses the animals’ ethos,
ecos, and telos
facilitates the objective determination of animal health (which is not simply
the absence of disease); the assessment of stress and distress using
established physiological, neurochemical, and behavioral indices; and
identification of welfare parameters and basic standards of animal husbandry
that meet animals’ physical requirements and psychological/behavioral needs.
Steps Toward Understanding
advances have been made in the science of applied animal ethology and welfare
assessment and improvement since the first English language book on this
interdisciplinary subject was published in 1968 that I edited and entitled Abnormal
Behavior in Animals. This book included essays by veterinarians,
ethologists, neuropsychologists, clinical and experimental psychologists, and
Pavlovian physiologists. One chapter by L. Chertok entitled Animal Hypnosis (an
intriguing mind-body phenomenon in vertebrate and invertebrate animals) was
reprinted from the first book ever published, to my knowledge, in 1964 that
addressed animals’ emotional states, and behavioral (psychogenic) and
psychosomatic diseases associated with stress and distress, from a primarily
veterinary perspective. This book,
edited by two French veterinarians, was called Psychiatrie Animale, (Brion &
Between the 1960s
and 1980s there was increasing interest in comparative psychiatry from Harlow’s
maternally-deprived caged macaques to other experimental psychologists’ often
gruesome studies of learned helplessness in rats repeatedly half-drowned, and
studies of restrained dogs being given inescapable shock (Overmeier 1981), the
end product being a proposed model of human coping in the presence of
hopelessness and depression, that might be of value in testing the new
anti-depressant psychotropic drugs that were being developed around that time,
(see also Seligman 1975).
but not devoid of some value in awakening our understanding of the similarities
in how humans and laboratory animals manifest distress and psychological
suffering, these experiments should never be, nor need be ever repeated. Nor
should those of Pavlovian, classical
conditioning, that resulted in much animal suffering, especially of dogs; yet
like the Nazi medical experiments on concentration-camp prisoners, these
experiments provided empirical evidence affirming the mind-body connections of
stress and distress, as well as various psychogenic, psychosomatic, traumatic,
and infectious disease processes (Pavlov 1928, Gantt 1944, Lidell 1956).
Pavlovian conditioning, researchers were able to identify and characterize
different animal (dog) temperaments, and went on to demonstrate how these
various psychomorphs responded to pain, conditioned fear (anxiety, terror),
infections, trauma (like having a leg broken), and total body radiation (see
Fig, 2), the details of which were provided by Prof. I.T. Kurtsin which I
published (along with a review of Harlow’s infant monkey maternal deprivation
by Gene Sackett) in Abnormal Behavior in
The seminal and
less invasive research findings of another Soviet scientist, Prof. D.K.
Belyaev, were first published in the West in another book that I edited
entitled The Wild Canids: Their
Systematic Behavioral Ecology and Evolution. Belyaev and Trut (1975), reported
changes in reproductive
activity that they regarded as a ‘destabilization’ process in captive silver
foxes after several generations of selectively breeding the most tractable and
docile. Thereafter, generations of
foxes developed floppy ears and piebald coats, females became bi-estrus rather
than having one heat per year. Belyaev
and Trut showed how the domestication process (of selectively breeding the most
docile) affected animals’ morphology and physiology, notably reactivity to ACTH
injections and to psychological stress.
American researcher Curt Richter came to similar conclusions in his
earlier (1954) review research on the effects of domestication on the Norway
rat, concluding that the laboratory rats were relatively hypergonadal and
hypoadrenal compared to their wild counterparts, such endocrine changes being
attributed to artificial selection for high fertility and docility. Domestication,
according to Belyaev and
Trut, influences the hypothalamo-pituitary-adrenal-gonadal systems, the selection
from docile, tractable behavior leads to the dramatic emergence of new forms
(phenotypes) and to the destabilization of ontogenesis manifested by the
breakdown of correlated systems (adrenal-pituitary, gonadal-pituitary), created
originally under stabilizing (i.e., natural) selection. (For some of the
earliest original thinking and research in this area, see Stockard 1941).
psychologist E. Gellhorn (1968) (who made cats more docile by eliminating their
senses of smell, sight and hearing to make them more trophotropic or
parasympathetic system dominant-they slept more) was coming to conclusions
similar to those of Belyaev and Trut, but by a less ethical/humane path, that
he felt had implications for neuropsychiatry.
The tuning of the parasympathetic and adrenergic systems, the latter
being linked with the neurohypophysis/pituitary-gonadal and other
neuroendocrine and immune-system modulating mind-body connections, became the
focus of converging and diverging animal studies during this time that helped
further our understanding of the mind-body and environment connections, and
effects of domestication.
Robert Ader, in
1981, put several authors together in a book that supported his thesis that
mental states (emotions), distress, and stress affect the body, especially the
immune system. It was appropriately
This was a major
turning point in demonstrating how social, emotional, and environmental
stimuli/events/experiences can influence animals’ neuroendocrine system, stress
tolerance, and disease susceptibility.
This new understanding demanded a more holistic approach in veterinary
practice to the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of domestogenic diseases
and syndromes in farmed, laboratory, zoo, and companion animals. A holistic
approach to animal health and
welfare in the biomedical and intensive factory farm environments was
particularly important for scientific and financial reasons, as well as on
moral grounds (Fox 1984 & 1986).
The holistic, interdisciplinary approach to addressing
mind-body-environment dislocations (see Fig. 3) that may cause animals to
suffer and become dis-eased, called for applying ethology, the study of animal
behavior, to the science and act of veterinary medicine and comparative medicine
which I stressed in the Wesley W. Spink Lectures on Comparative Medicine at the
University of Minnesota, (Fox 1974).
Veterinary Ethology Society, of which I was a founding member, was established
around this time and after only a few years became the International Society of
Applied Ethology, encouraging veterinary colleges and animal science
departments to offer courses and conduct research on this subject. Since these
encouraging beginnings several benchmark studies, symposia, and texts have been
published, (Katcher and Beck 1983, Lawrence and Rushen 1993, Davis and Balfour
1992, Panksepp 1998, Dodman and Shuster 1998, Moberg and Mench 2000).
A more holistic
understanding of animals’ ethos and
welfare requirements has also come from research in cognitive ethology, the field
of study that investigates animals’
consciousness, mental states, and the umvelt
or animals’ perceptual world (Griffin 1997, Bekoff 2003).
Brambell (1965) report on farm animal welfare included the following statement
by eminent neurologist Lord Brain:
I personally can
see no reason for conceding mind to my fellow men and denying it to animals.
Mental functions, rightly viewed, are but servants of the impulses and emotions
by which we live, and these, the springs of Life, are surely diencephalic in
their neurological location. Since the
diencephalon is well developed in animals and birds, I at least cannot doubt
that the interests and activities of animals are correlated with awareness and
feelings in the same way as my own, and which may be, for ought I know, just as
vivid. McMillan (2003) has stressed the
clinical and animal welfare importance of considering more than physical pain
and relief of same, since "emotional pain", (as fear, panic, anxiety,
helplessness and depression), are welfare-related concerns in addition to
physical pain per se.
understanding of developmental processes that influence the behavioral
phenotype come from studies of early experiences both pre- and post-natally
(see Fig. 4) that entailed various handling procedures of pregnant animals,
mainly mice, and of the offspring soon after birth. Gentle handling on a regular
basis was found to affect emotional
reactivity, learning ability, stress resistance, and disease susceptibility
that had profound implications in animal husbandry and which pointed to an
epigenetic, neo-Lamarkian phenomenon of inherited, intergenerational
environmental influences on animals’ physiology and behavior (Levine and
Mullins 1966, Denenberg 1967). As a
consultant in Biosensor Research for the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the
early 1970s, I applied some of these findings in developing a socialization and
rearing program that provided selected beneficial experiences to puppies during
their formative weeks. This Superdog
project that I made available to puppy owners and breeders in my 1972 book Understanding
Your Dog was aimed at
enhancing in-field performance, stress-tolerance, and disease resistance in
adult German Shepherd dogs under combat conditions in Vietnam.
This field of
developmental psychobiology showed that genetic background/heredity, and pre-
and early postnatal experiences influenced animals’ physiology, behavior,
temperament, learning ability, and stress and disease resistance when early
handling, socialization, and environmental enrichment were provided during
critical or sensitive periods of development (Scott and Fuller 1965, Fox 1971,
McMillan 1999b & 2002). Such
profound consequences of external stimulation/experiences on the mind-body
connection are now more widely recognized, providing a scientific basis for the
value of tender loving care (TLC). Spitz (1949) first pointed how the lack of
TLC can cause marasmus, growth retardation, increased morbidity, and mortality
in orphaned, institutionalized human infants. The relevance of these findings
to improving the husbandry, health, and productivity of farmed animals was
realized in particular by Hemsworth and Coleman (1998), who went on to
demonstrate that sows that had been gently handled and socialized early in life
had more offspring than sows not given such early experiences.
The attitude of
animal caretakers toward the animals under their care is significantly
influenced by the conditions under which they work and the conditions under
which the animals are kept (Seabrook 1984), which underscores yet another
variable in assessing animals’ welfare and in setting optimal husbandry
standards for various animal species. An animal caretaker's gentle handling can
affect heart rate and other physiological indices (see Fig. 5). The petting
of rabbits can significantly
mitigate the harmful effects of a high fat and cholesterol diet, reducing the
incidence of artherosclerosis by some 60 percent compared to non-handled
rabbits fed the same diet, (Nerem et al 1980). This research further
underscores the importance of recognizing the interactive nature of animals'
social environment, emotional state, nutrition and health.
The research of
veterinarian W.B. Gross, now Prof. Emeritus, Virginia and Maryland College of
Veterinary Medicine, has shown the complexities of genotype-environment
interactions on the development, behavior, stress resistance, and disease
susceptibility in poultry, the clinical and husbandry implications of which are
indeed profound. Dr. Gross prepared a
synopsis of his interdisciplinary research from the perspective of the
mind-body connection in poultry for inclusion in this review that is appended
at the end of this chapter. He has also shown the benefits of vitamin C (4
mgm/kg time-release granules) that blocks the adrenal stress response in the
clinical setting of dogs presented with various forms of cancer, with promising
results, (Gross et al 2001). These
findings indirectly support the claimed clinical benefits of corticosteroid
replacement therapy for a variety of chronic degenerative diseases in companion
animals documented in practice by Pletchner (2003). As with Gross’ different
lines of poultry, different breeds of
dogs, cats, pigs, cattle and other domesticated animals and hybrids thereof,
with different temperaments/emotional reactivity, respond differently to stress
and other social and environmental stimuli, which can mean different disease
profiles in animals raised under similar conditions. "Fitness"/adaptation under
natural conditions calls for
a set of organismic responses that evolve over millennia. Animals under
unnatural conditions of domesticity/captivity, to which they are not
genetically and behaviorally pre-adapted, often mobilize maladaptive responses
and being unable to adapt, suffer the consequences physically and
With the discovery
of cholinergic, serotonergic, dopaminergic, and other neurochemical pathways
and opioid, benzodiazepine, and other neural receptor sites that mediate and
modulate various subjective, cognitive, and affective states, the field of
behavioral psychopharmacology has opened a new door into the mind-body
connections of human and non-human animals.
connections of neuropeptides (like the opiates) centered in the limbic system
(the ‘seat’ of the emotions) form a regulatory matrix of emotional, behavioral,
and physiological processes that help promote animals’ survival and
well-being. Neuropeptide receptors have
also been found in lymphocytes and in spleen monocytes (that secrete ACTH and
endorphin), creating a linkage with the immune system and central nervous
system (CNS). Receptors for
immunopeptides such as lymphokines, cytokines, and interleukins have been found
in the CNS, and opiate and other receptors in the gastrointestinal tract and
throughout most body organs and tissues.
This means that there is bidirectional communication between mind and
body, brain, and immune system such that mood/mental state is linked with
cellular defense and repair mechanisms (for a review see McMillan1999a).
The health benefits
of companion animals to their human guardians, and vice versa, are associated
at this molecular level with beneficial changes in levels of neurochemicals
such as endorphin, prolactin, oxytocin, dopamine, and phenylethylamine in both
humans and dogs during friendly contact (Odendaal and Meintjes 2003). It is
because of these mind-body linking
neuropeptide and other chemical receptor systems that it is possible to lower
an animal’s blood pressure and enhance their immune response through classical
and operant conditioning, biofeedback, and simply by gentle regular
petting. As Seligman (1975) has shown,
control and predictability are important elements of coping in human and
non-human animals for whom an environment in which they have little control or
predictability leads to helplessness, depression, and immune-system impairment.
The thyroid gland
can also be involved in stress/distress reactions; captive wild rabbits exposed
to dogs, for example, may die from acute thyrotoxicosis (Kracht 1954). Loneliness
and separation anxiety may be
manifested as colitis-like diarrhea and bloody stools in dogs precisely because
of these environment-mind-body connections, a greater understanding of which
calls for the practice of holistic veterinary (and human) medicine. Stress-free
understimulation, i.e. social isolation leading to boredom vices (Wemelsfelder
1990) and higher mortalities, can be as detrimental as overstimulation (as
through overstocking). This means that
there is an optimal level of stimulation and stress for individuals, breeds,
and species called eustress that help maintain psychophysical homeostasis as
distinct from distress (from too little or too much stimulation) that leads to dystasis,
i.e. behavioral, metabolic,
and cellular disruption of homeostatic systems.
spectrum of psychotropic drugs, analgesics, tranquilizers, anxiolytics,
dissociatives, and skeletal muscle relaxants is of considerable value in veterinary
practice as other contributors to this volume have documented. They are especially
valuable in reducing
stress and fear in wild animals needing veterinary attention, and in dealing
with the obsessive-compulsive, and separation-anxiety afflicted companion
animals. But they should never become a
matter of routine prescription for animals suffering from
emotional/behavioral/cognitive disorders to the exclusion of providing the
right understanding, relationship, and environment, which are the best preventives
of many behavioral anomalies, psychogenic disorders (like self-mutilation in
bored and anxious captive parrots), and psychosomatic diseases (like ulcerative
colitis in high-strung, i.e. highly empathic or extremely fearful German
stereotypies of animals in barren environments may be associated with
developmental abnormalities in the brain and impaired basal ganglia activity
(Garner & Mason 2002). As these
authors conclude from their evidence for a neural substitute for cage stereotypy,
stereotypic animals may experience novel forms of psychological distress, and
that stereotypy might well represent a confound in many behavioral
experiments. The effects of the
impoverished laboratory cage environment and of environmental enrichment on
brain development, neurochemistry, and behavior have been long recognized
(Rosenzweig et al 1962, Diamond et al 1967). These effects can compromise both
animals' welfare and their utility for research (introducing uncontrolled
experimental variables), as emphasized by Fox (1986), and more recently by
Wurbel (2001). A new perspective on stereotypic behavior in horses has been
given by Marsden (2002), who looks at various treatments from an ethological
and animal welfare perspective, identifying those treatments that can be
detrimental when the underlying motivation/frustration is not addressed.
Stereotypic behavior can be interpreted as a maladaptive response to
hypostimulation or hyperstimulation, (Fox 1986), the environmental dissonance
between stimulus-input and the animal's arousal level being homeostatically
regulated by increased or decreased activity see Fig. 6). A bored, under-stimulated
animal may groom
excessively, sometimes to the point of self-mutilation, and behave similarly
when stressed by fear or anxiety and frustration when confined, in a strange
place, or in the presence of strangers. Such self-comforting behavior
associated with hypostimulation and hyperstimulation can be correctly
interpreted as obsessive compulsive behavior, but should be distinguished from
schizoaffective disorder that can manifest similar symptomatology but have a
different etiology and motivation. One example is the dog who self-mutilates
after displaying agonistic behavior, the self-mutilation being a consequence of
self-directed aggression, sometimes accompanied by psychogenic hallucinations,
such as fly-snapping and staring at one spot.
The effects of
living alone in a cage, pen, or room on millions of dogs, cats, birds, and
other pets for long periods of time without human contact, and with all too
often a complete lack of contact with another animal, is a veterinary medical
and ethical problem. Reliance on
psychotropic drugs to alleviate these adverse effects is neither an appropriate
medical nor ethical solution.
Another group of
chemicals influencing mind-body reactions that are generally much safer, if not
cheaper than psychotropic drugs, are the pheromones, or animal essences, and
the plant essences or essential oils derived from various herbs, flowers,
trees, and other vegetative life forms whose phytochemical substances have
co-evolved neurochemical affinities with the mammalian brain, neuroendocrine,
and other systems, like the endogenous opioid beta-endorphin pain-alleviating
receptor system that is present even in earthworms. Some of these essential
oils may affect serotonergic,
gamma-aminobutyric acid, and dopaminergic neurotransmission, or have
anticholinergic, antispasmodic, and other effects on the mind-body that could
prove beneficial to animals suffering from a variety of behavioral
problems. Horses and other animals that
develop stress- and boredom-related stereotypies and other obsessive-compulsive
disorders develop elevated dopamine and opioid levels that may be inhibited by
dopaminergic and opioid agonists. More
research in the veterinary and animal husbandry applications of plant essences,
popularly known as aromatherapy, is needed in this clinically promising but
scientifically little understood area of alternative/complementary medicine
It might be
rewarding to evaluate the euphoric, mood-elevating properties of essential oils
like Bergamot and Clary Sage. After
all, many cats enjoy mood-altering catnip. Clinical studies of a synthetic
pheromone that contains chemical similar to those found in the sebaceous glands
on the mammary region of nursing dogs have shown that the compound odor has a
calming effect on many dogs suffering from separation-anxiety and fear of
fireworks (Sheppard and Mills 2003).
includes happiness and playfulness which will take more direct human
involvement, however, than magical oils and the offerings of behavioral
pharmacology. I know farmers who play
with their chickens, pigs, steers, cows, and ewes, like the Indian villagers
who play and sleep with young goats and calves. These animals are healthier
and more productive. Similarly, in families where there is no
intra- or inter-species play provided for live-alone dogs, cats, parrots, and
other pets, there are more health and behavioral problems than in families
where the animals are happy because they can play (see Horwitz et al.
2002). Inter-species play, as between a
billy goat and a young bull, a calf and two young dogs, a lamb and ten dogs,
and a monkey with a pack of more than thirty dogs, a herd of twenty cattle and
a band of more than ninety donkeys, that I have witnessed at IPAN’s Hillview
Farm Animal Refuge, is a sight to behold.
It is the essence of the joy of life that heals, makes whole, and inspires
and affirms the will to be. Play is the best of all natural therapies; and it
is a cardinal animal welfare science indicator of animal welfare and
The use of massage
therapy and the Healing Touch (Fox 1997), can also be valuable in reducing
animals’ tension, fear, and distrust, and help speed recovery from various
demonstration that dogs can be conditioned to respond to injections of normal
saline as though they had been injected with morphine raises the question of conditioned
and associative learning and anticipation/expectation in relation to positive
and negative placebo-like effects in animal patients. As McMillan (1999b) proposes,
the goal of clinical application of
placebo effects should not be to seek substitution of placebo treatments for
standard treatments, but rather to use the placebo effects to accentuate the
efficacy of such treatments.
Animals engage in
mutual greeting displays and self-care and mutual-care behaviors, including
grooming, making contentment sounds and various intention-movements or displays
(like lip-smacking in macaques) of epimeletic (care-giving) and et-epimeletic
(care-seeking) behavioral/motivational systems. Mimicking such care-giving behavior
appropriate to the species is
a prerequisite for veterinarians and animal handlers who need to enter an
animal’s personal space and make physical contact. Giving a treat as a
care-giving gesture is often the first step.
Some animals are
highly motivated care-givers and as Chief Consultant/Veterinarian with India
Project for Animals and Nature I have witnessed at our Hill View Farm Animal
Refuge how the recovery of many frightened, sick, or injured animals is
enhanced by the reassuring presence and attentions of our care-giving resident
dogs, ponies, and cows. Being isolated
from conspecifics, especially for sheep and for most young animals, can be
extremely stressful. The staff are
trained to feed animals treats and to groom or stroke them during various
treatments like changing a dressing on a lacerated limb, be the animal a horse,
half-wild bullock, or captive elephant.
Epimeletic behavior and empathy make for good animal handlers. They also
sleep with dogs, calves, baby
elephants, and other animals, monitoring their condition, checking IV drips,
etc., when emergency cases requiring intensive care come in for treatment. Most
importantly, they are instructed to encourage the animals in recovery to play,
engage with other healthy resident animals, and engage in natural behaviors in
a free but safe environment rather than remain confined all the time in a small
cage or pen.
I am glad of the
opportunity to contribute to this important book that I see as a high watermark
for the veterinary profession in helping accomplish what I have advocated my
entire professional life: healing and enhancing the human/non-human animal bond
through sound science, understanding, empathy, and respect. Then compassionate
action will do less harm
and a mutually enhancing human-animal bond can be established. My friend and
mentor Thomas Berry (1999) put
it this way: The universe is not a collection of objects, it is a community of
subjects. Compassion will be absolute, or it is not at all.
The communion of
subjects that I examine in my book The
Boundless Circle creates what I call the empathosphere, a realm of empathic
feeling that Sheldrake (2000), in his studies of dogs and cats who somehow seem
to know when their human companions are coming home, calls the morphic
field. It is a realm of in-feeling
that, without further scientific study, will regrettably continue to be
regarded as psychic or illusory to the rationally minded. Fortunately, some
controlled experiments have demonstrated the beneficial effects of
healing-directed prayer or distant/remote mental intentionality on such
non-human subjects as bacteria, plants, chicks, gerbils, cats, and dogs (Dossey
2001, Grad 1964). These findings undermine scientism's belief in consciousness
as an epiphenomenon of brain neurochemistry, and support a holistic paradigm of
consciousness as a fundamental principle that is irreducible to anything more
basic, and which is both co-inherent and omnipresent, particular and universal.
Be this as it may,
I urge all veterinary students as well as children and adults who have animals
in their lives, to take time out, suspend all judgement and simply be with animals,
ideally in situations
where they have behavioral freedom and can be with their own kind. Observe them,
feel with them/for them, and
become them. Perhaps the animals may
then welcome you to the empathosphere like many before you who became shamans,
healers, good husbanders, and stewards of the land.
Mind-Body Connection: Lessons from
perceptions of the environment are based on lifelong experiences and genetics.
These perceptions are evaluated in the brain and the evaluation is sent to the
hypothalamus that sends varying levels of ACTH via the blood to the adrenal
cortex. This regulates the production
of glucocorticoids by the adrenals which are delivered to the cell nuclei. The
glucocorticoid level within the nuclei
regulates the translation of genes into proteins. Individuals differ in their
rate of translation. As stress levels
increase, the number of polymorphs increase while the number of lymphocytes
decrease with little change in the total blood count. Because of this, a neutrophil/lymphocyte
ratio relates much
better than plasma glucocorticoid level to the physiological effects of stress
on many factors (Gross and Siegel 1983). The response to a very short term
stress begins in about 12 hours, peaks in 20 hours and returns to normal in
about 36 hours. A longer stress results in a longer peak response. Vocalizations,
behaviors, and productivity
are very good evaluations of environmental quality (Stone et al 1984).
A wide variety of
stressors can alter the stress response.
The same stressor is perceived differently by different individuals in a
population. Animals tend to adapt to
repeated exposure to the same stressors except one’s place in the social order,
relationship to humans, and a disease in progress. For example, laying chickens
have reduced egg production in response to heat stress. If chicks are exposed
to a short-term elevation of temperature during brooding, after they are over
10 days of age, they tend to be resistant to increases in temperature later in
life (Arjona 1983). Exposure to
stressors between 1 and 7 days of age results in a wide variety of responses to
many factors among individuals later in life. Because of this, newly born or
hatched animals should be protected from harsh environmental changes (Gross and
limited resources available for various needs.
Allocation is determined genetically.
The genetic makeup of individuals within a population varies
greatly. For example, if chickens are
selectively bred for a high antibody response to an erythrocyte antigen, fewer
resources are available for body weight than L antibody line chickens. Weight
gain has a low priority for resources.
A population of chickens was selectively bred for either a high (H) or
low (L) level of antibody response to the same antigen. The possible lines and
crosses between the
stocks are HH (male-female), HL, LH, or LL. Each of these groups is either most
or least resistant to diseases for which the proper defense is antibody. T
cell, polymorphs, or monocytes. This
suggests that within populations there is a wide variability of resistance to a
wide variety of diseases. Responses to
genetic factors are influenced by the level of environmental stress. Allocation
of resources to defense against the various diseases is controlled by the
animal's perception of its environment.
Defense against a wide variety of diseases and environmental stressors
is resource-expensive, which leaves fewer resources for productivity (Gross
If chickens are
raised singly in cages there are no social interactions and the P/L ratio of
about 0.25 indicates a very low level of stress. Their vocalizations indicate
contentment. This results in
increased susceptibility to bacterial diseases and external parasites (Hall and
Gross 1975). Since the production of
digestive enzymes is reduced, their appetite for food is reduced. They eventually
die of starvation in the presence of food.
If individuals in
flocks of 5 chickens are rotated among a group of cages twice a week there is
much difficulty in establishing social orders. Social interactions for
dominance are common resulting in lesions particularly on the comb. A high P/L ratio
of about 0.55 indicates a high level of social stress. The most dominant chicken
has the lowest P/L
ratio while the #2 chicken has the highest P/L ratio. Vocalizations indicate
anxiety. Growth rate and feed
efficiency are reduced because of the diversion of resources to the stress
response. Chickens tend to be resistant to bacterial diseases and external
parasites with increased susceptibility to viral diseases and a decreased
antibody response. Resistance to bacterial disease is very good if the P/L
ratio is 0.72. Higher and lower values are less effective (Gross and Siegel
If individuals are raised in stable
5, social orders are quickly established. Their vocalizations indicate
contentment. A P/L ratio of about 0.4 indicates a stress level that is between
that of the previous groups. Genetic tendencies for disease resistance and
other factors are easily expressed while growth rate and feed efficiency are
high. Individuals need the stimulus of a group. Optimal group size varies among
flocks. This medium stress level
is the objective of good husbandry and genetic selection (Gross and Siegel
The adrenal stress
response can be blocked by a narrow optimal dose of a variety of
chemicals. This increases host defense
against a variety of diseases such as tuberculosis, tumors, and viruses. The
adrenal stress response can be increased
by a narrow optimal dose of glucocorticoids or ACTH. The optimal dose depends
on the animal's P/L ratio. This greatly increases resistance to bacterial
diseases. A narrow optimal dose of ascorbic acid results in increased
resistance to tuberculosis, tumors, viruses, and bacterial infections resulting
in decreased feed efficiency (Gross 1982).
One of the most
important factors in improving the mental well-being of animals is their
relationship with their human associates. When the relationship is good,
expression of genetic potential is increased and resistance to all diseases and
stressors are increased. Socialized
animals feel confident. They have reduced
variation within experimental groups and increased variation between
experimental groups. This greatly increases the statistical significance of
experimental results. Experimental
animals should be given at least 2 weeks to adjust to their social and physical
environment. The introduction of new individuals might reduce the stability of
adapted groups. Kind human relationships should begin as soon as animals are
acquired (Gross 1982).
Large flocks of
housed poultry which have good nutrition, protection from weather, predators,
and parasites as well as a good relationship with their human associates have
very good productivity, feed efficiency, and resistance to stressors. They
quickly reallocate resources in response to disease exposure (Gross et al 2002).
How an animal views
its social and physical environments and its human associates greatly affects
body functions. These factors are very
important in our relationships with animals.
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