Letters to the Editor

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Ecological roles in one health

The recent commentary from Drs. Nielson and Eyre1 on tailoring veterinary medicine to emphasize one health, along with the subsequent letter to the editor2 and authors' reply,3 raised some issues related to veterinary education and one health. In both the commentary and letters, the authors discussed several important one-health issues, including food security, comparative medicine, and translational medicine. Additionally, the authors mentioned ecological medicine in the context of one health and veterinary education.

However, we believe the authors did not adequately present the many ecological roles for veterinarians in the one-health field and, by extension, the need for educational courses related to these roles. We also were surprised that the term conservation medicine did not appear, leaving ecological medicine as the possible surrogate.

There is little disagreement that veterinarians are a critical part of one health, with veterinarians now integral to this emerging transdisciplinary approach. As practitioners of animal health, they have the ability to provide one health–centered care for animals—including humans—as well as for the environments on which all life is dependent. There is nearly universal agreement that to be successful, the one health movement must take a “planet to individual” patient approach. This holistic approach is mentioned by Kelly et al,2 who suggest that clinical career tracks focusing on “ecological medicine” do not go far enough to address food safety. However, we contend that ecological (conservation) medicine must go beyond simply ensuring global food security. To focus on feeding the people of the world without also focusing on protecting the planet itself is counter-intuitive.

As the planet's human population approaches 8 billion, global food security must remain at the top of the agenda for the veterinary profession and within a veterinary one health curriculum. However, to focus solely on translational medicine and food safety runs the risk of downplaying the importance of biodiversity, the environment, and their impact on human health. Environmental sustainability, livestock needs, and the needs of humans have inevitably intersected. Those in the veterinary profession are in a unique position in regards to this intersection, in part because of the breadth of our education, which allows us to think holistically.

As veterinary schools integrate one-health courses within their curricula, we would do well to look at current work within the greater veterinary community. The AVMA, Student AVMA, American College of Zoological Medicine, and American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians have programs to encourage a holistic approach to various aspects of veterinary medicine as they apply to one health.4 Many academic institutions focus on the importance of one health. Postgraduate certificates and Master and Doctorate degrees in one health are available at universities internationally.5, 6 We are excited at the opportunities for continued growth within the veterinary profession. By bringing together all specialties within one health, we may more effectively address the health challenges that threaten public health, wildlife conservation, and environmental sustainability.

Sara Bryan, bs

University of Missouri Columbia, Mo.

Sharon L. Deem, dvm, phd

Director, Institute for Conservation Medicine Saint Louis Zoo St Louis, Mo.

Jamie Palmer, ms

Institute for Conservation Medicine Saint Louis Zoo St Louis, Mo.

  • 1. Nielsen NO, Eyre P. Tailoring veterinary medicine for the future by emphasizing one health. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2017;251:502504.

  • 2. Kelly AM, Galligan D, Salman MD, et al. Emphasizing one health (lett). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2017;251:999.

  • 3. Nielsen NO, Eyre P. Emphasizing one health: the authors reply (lett). J Am Vet Med Assoc 2017;251:1000.

  • 4. Deem SL. Conservation medicine to one health: the role of zoologic veterinarians. In: Miller RE, Fowler ME, eds. Fowler's zoo and wild animal medicine. 8th ed. St Louis: Saunders Elsevier, 2015;698703.

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  • 5. Conrad PA, Mazet JA, Clifford D, et al. Evolution of a transdisciplinary “one medicine–one health” approach to global health education at the University of California, Davis. Prev Vet Med 2009;92:268274.

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  • 6. Kaufman GE, Epstein JH, Paul-Murphy J, et al. Designing graduate training programs in conservation medicine—producing the right professionals with the right tools. EcoHealth 2008;5:519527.

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The perils of breed-specific legislation

The recent JAVMA News story1 discussing attempts across the United States to prohibit individuals from keeping certain kinds of dogs is a clarion call to end this type of discriminatory, breed-specific legislation.1 Many good dogs and their caregivers and families have suffered the consequences of this biologically and ethologically absurd legislation.

Unfortunately, specific dogs, especially those from certain communities where dog fighting and animal cruelty are endemic, have created a stigma around pit bull–type dogs and those with a similar appearance. For example, I have seen people back away from my own family's dog, whom they see as part “pit bull,” but the dog is, in fact, a shy and gentle Australian Red Heeler with some Boxer in its lineage.

Unfortunately, DNA testing of individual dogs to determine ancestry is not yet entirely reliable. A dog owner I know was recently rejected by a landlord whose apartment she wished to rent after he insisted her Beagle-looking dog be DNA tested for breed ancestry, and the test results indicated the dog was part Chow Chow, a breed the landlord considered dangerous. Other owners of purebred dogs have also had false Chow Chow ancestry attributed to their dogs as a result of DNA analysis. Clearly this genetic profiling is not yet as reliable as it is for identifying certain genetic disorders. Thus, local animal shelters, dog adoption and animal control agencies, animal protection organizations, and state veterinary associations would be better off supporting an alternative to breed-specific legislation proposed by the AVMA.2 This will do much to prevent the abuse and suffering of dogs of certain kinds that invoke unwarranted prejudice and fear, while also advancing societal acceptance of veterinary bioethics with regard to the application of science and reason in dealing with these types of public health issues.

Michael W. Fox, bvetmed, phd, dsc

Golden Valley, Minn.

I read the recent JAVMA News story “The Dangerous Dog Debate”1 with some surprise. To me, giving equal weight to both sides in an article about the appropriateness of breed-specific legislation (BSL) is equivalent to giving equal weight to both sides in an article about the validity of evolution or climate change. In the case of BSL, on one side of the debate are numerous veterinary and medical organizations, including the AVMA, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, and CDC, that oppose this legislative approach; on the other side are advocacy groups with little or no scientific background.

As a researcher in the genetics of canine behavior, I can assert that much is not yet understood about the influence of breed in the development of aggression in individual dogs. However, the influence of poor management has been well described. It is for this reason that a focus on responsible ownership—rather than BSL—has been suggested as the best community approach to bite prevention, as outlined in the AVMA's “A Community Approach to Dog Bite Prevention.”

Jessica Hekman, dvm, phd

Vertebrate Genomics Group Broad Institute Massachusetts Institute of Technology Harvard University Marlborough, Mass.

  • 1. Nolen RS. The dangerous dog debate. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2017;251:10941099.

  • 2. AVMA Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions. A community approach to dog bite prevention. J Am Vet Med Assoc 2001;218:17321749.

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