We honestly just adapted our initiative from the zoo veterinarians, who have done many good things with environmental enrichment.
In developing the initiative, we also looked at the intensive agricultural production, particularly in Europe, where they're
very concerned about animal welfare from a production standpoint.
What we're doing right now is really an outreach to try to get the word out to more animal owners and veterinarians about
how animals should be housed and the health issues associated with it. From a clinical point of view, we're very interested
in investigating how problems of housing and environment play into the progression or natural history of disease. I don't
think stressful circumstances necessarily cause any diseases, but it has certainly been well shown in a variety of species
that it can unmask susceptibilities and also complicate therapy.
DVM: Is there a similar initiative for dog owners?
Buffington: I'm not aware of any. Honestly, for me, working with the cats is a full-time job. One of the reasons I got interested in
cats is because they're really the outlier species. This means they're not a pack species, whereas humans, dogs, cattle,
sheep, ducks, horses, pigs and geese are all pack species. Most people have never thought about the fact that cats aren't
a pack species. That has led to a lot of confusion about how a cat's environment ought to be structured, and how they like
to interact with other animals, including humans. A practical example that I tell my students is that you can slap your dog
or slap your horse and they understand what you mean. You slap a cat, and they think you're trying to kill them. They don't
have the pack communication skills. They don't have a dominance hierarchy that is as rigid as it is in the pack species. Most
of their interactions are either avoidance or aggression. The expression, 'fight or flight' came from studies of cats. Those
are their choices.
DVM: Compliance versus adherence: What's the difference?
Buffington: I've been thinking about this a lot. Technically the difference is this: compliance is something you do because someone told
you to do it. Adherence is something you do because you think it is good to do on your own. I don't think it's too helpful
to sit down and argue terminology. What we could do is put those two words together. You might get something like coherence,
which means having a consistent, sensible message that's attractive and doable to help our clients.
It is the veterinarian, client and pet all working together in coherence.
There's a whole healthcare institute that is dedicated to veterinary communications. It's being taught in the schools now.
Hill's has a big effort under way about increasing compliance. What we ultimately mean by compliance is doing the right things
for animals and owners, which is really what adherence means as well.
I'm sure there are many efforts to enhance communication skills of veterinarians. Just as our animals are living in different
circumstances than they were a generation ago, our clients are different than they were a generation ago. Animals are much
more important to clients, for whatever reason. I imagine as we become more isolated from each other by our work and complexity
of our lives, as those animals take on increased meaning to people, it's going to be helpful to us to understand that meaning
and act within those constraints.
DVM: What are the age-related diseases that are having the greatest damaging effects on pets today?
Buffington: I'm not sure that age-related diseases have changed so much. I'd be thinking of chronic organ systems diseases and cancer.
Part of that is because animals are living longer. Just as in human medicine, we're seeing some of these diseases because
people are old enough to be getting them.
DVM: You've been involved in research on the human side. Are you continuing to work in this field?