Weekend Rounds - 06.12

Do your patients dream?

Oh hey there,

If you're new to Weekend Rounds, welcome to the best dang veterinary newsletter out there. With equal parts news, education, and good vibes - we'll keep you informed and entertained.

If you've been around for a bit, you know what to expect so let's dive in. In today's issue:

💤 Do animals dream?

👀 New research on how animals see

💰 How big is the animal healthcare market?

😱 Freaky AI

😂 Meme of the week

Sweet dreams are made of this

It's easy to see a sleeping dog wag their tail and imagine they are dreaming of chasing squirrels in a field or digging into a bottomless bowl of peanut butter. After all, since our dreams can often be a fantastical escape grounded in real-world experience, why wouldn't it be the same for non-human animals? Studying the dreams of animals has been a topic of interest since Darwin hypothesized on the subject in The Descent of Man, published in 1871. Whether or not animals dream is more than just a pet project (pun intended) as deeper understanding of the issue will raise fundamental questions about who animals are as individuals and how their minds operate. In his new book When Animals Dream: The Hidden World of Animal Consciousness, Peña-Guzmán says there is now enough evidence on nonhuman animal sleep to claim that yes, animals do dream. We will never be 100% sure, since Bella the cockapoo can't tell you that she dreamt of chasing tennis balls while eating her way through a swimming pool of kibble. But the science is becoming clearer.Take this excerpt from a recent essay on the topic in Aeon:

Although dream experts disagree about what the neural signatures of dreaming are and where they are located in the brain, there is widespread agreement that two neural events merit special consideration. One is the so-called PGO waves that trigger dreaming during REM sleep, which is the phase of the human sleep cycle when dream experiences abound. These brain waves are ascending bursts of neural activity that originate in the pons (P), pass through the lateral geniculate nucleus of the thalamus (G), and terminate in the occipital lobe (O).

The other is the theta oscillations (from 4 up to 12 Hz) that regularly crop up whenever consciousness encroaches upon sleep in the guise of a dream.

Fascinatingly, both PGO waves and theta oscillations have been detected in a wide variety of nonhumans. PGO waves have been discovered in animals as evolutionarily close to us as nonhuman primates and as evolutionarily distant from us as zebrafish. Meanwhile, theta oscillations, especially in the hippocampus, have been well documented in a plethora of mammals.Plus, the closest we will get to first-person evidence is seeing the equivalent of sleep-talking in action: chimpanzees trained in American Sign Language (ASL) have been seen signing while sleeping, and octopi have created chromatic expressions on their tentacles while sleeping in the absence of any other external stimuli.If we apply traditionally held views on human dreams to the dreams of animals, the philosophical implications are complicated. Just to throw a few out there and let you ponder the meaning of life the next few hours:If dreams are quasi-random images: Does this mean that animals can generate sensory images that do not correspond to their physical surroundings? If dreams are the codifying of a belief system: What does this say about an animal's ability to think independently and create a worldview? If dreams are part of the brain's process of consolidating memories: What can this tell us about how animals learn?

A new study from researchers at the University or Arkansas has opened our eyes wider (pun intended, again) to how and what animals see. Among their findings after gathering vision data for hundreds of vertebrates and invertebrates:

  • Terrestrial animals are able to distinguish more colors than aquatic animals

  • Animals adapted to open terrestrial habitats see a wider range of colors than those adapted to live in forests

Perhaps most notably, the study builds upon the hypothesis that evolutionary process is a key factor in determining which colors different types of animals can see. While animals do adapt to environments, their ability to adapt can be physiologically constrained. For example, invertebrate species see shorter wavelengths of light compared to vertebrate ones, due to the evolution of some of their retinal cells.

From the paper:

While vertebrates and invertebrates broadly use the same cell type, opsins, to see, they build these cells differently. This physiological difference -- what biologists call ciliary opsins in vertebrates and rhabdomeric opsins in invertebrates -- might explain why invertebrates are better at seeing short wavelength light, even when habitat should select for vertebrates to also see short wavelengths of light.

If you don't get that headline... don't worry. It's not important.What is important is that the Global Animal Healthcare Market, currently valued at $141.2 billion (all figures in USD) is expected to reach $181.7 billion by 2028. This represented a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 4.3% over the forecast period. Here is a quick snapshot, courtesy of Vantage Market Research:

We already know the demands on veterinary services is growing, which will account for the majority of the market increase. But with a shortage of vets and systemic issues of wellbeing, suicide and burnout wreaking havoc on our lives, it's hard to not ask how this growth will affect our day-to-day.

The Strange and Secret Ways That Animals Perceive the World [The New Yorker]Concern grows that human monkeypox outbreak will establish virus in animals outside Africa [Science]Monarch butterflies may be doing better than thought, controversial study suggests [National Geographic]Nearly 70% of veterinarians have lost a colleague or peer to suicide, study finds [The Guardian]

Long time readers of Weekend Rounds will know that we're fascinated by Artificial Intelligence. We've written about it a few times in the newsletter and Obi co-founder Dr. Ryan Appleby recently published an article in JAVMA titled, Artificial intelligence in veterinary medicine.The most recent invention that has captivated the AI community and beyond is DALL-E from OpenAI which can create realistic images and art from a text prompt... and it's really good at it. Like freaky good. While DALL-E is not yet open to the general public, a knockoff called DALL-E mini has popped up and is now Twitter's meme generator du jour. So we gave it the prompt 'happy veterinarian' to see what it it would return. Here are the horrifying results:

While the AI cannot generate faces properly, it's hard not to consider the idea that perhaps based on the challenges in our industry these images are spot on.

It's a constant battle...

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