The horse lost its fur – University of Copenhagen

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19 May 2015

The horse lost its fur

Research profile

Charlotte Bjørnvad maltreated a horse when she was a teenager. This eventually proved beneficial to many overweight dogs and cats

The horsey girl, Charlotte, was 14 years old, when the horse she was looking after, Rusalka, developed eczema. The vet prescribed an ointment and being a conscientious young girl, she rubbed it in good and proper. Only the horse got worse - its fur began to fall out.

“So I rubbed on more ointment – because I wanted to help. But the horse lost more and more of its fur, until only its tail and mane were left. It was such a sad sight, a bald horse. Then we took it to the veterinary hospital here at Landbohøjskolen, where it turned out that it was allergic to the ointment. I promised myself that I would never risk maltreating another animal, “ Professor Charlotte Bjørnvad confesses while laughing and shaking her head at her 14-year-old self.

The she started studying at Landbohøjskolen – today Frederiksberg Campus – VET at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences. And she basically never left.

“I considered studying theology or psychology but then I figured that being a vet is not a hobby, whereas you can explore your spirituality in your free time. I started studying when I was 20 years old, and apart from one year in practice and a few months at an abattoir, I’ve worked here ever since,” the 46-year-old Professor of Internal Medicine explains.

What drives your research?

“Learning something new and making a difference. And the fact that I’m good at it – I feel comfortable having many different and complex tasks. I practiced for a short while, but I quickly discovered that it was not for me. It was monotonous – your primary communication was with owners, and you have very little contact with colleagues. You most certainly make a difference for the individual animal, but I missed the professional environment of the university.

Here our days are varied. We deal with diabetes as well as intestinal and dietary diseases. We treat, teach and conduct research. There are constant challenges to be solved. It’s never boring or monotonous.

I really like working alongside my extremely talented students and colleagues, who take their profession very seriously. There are many good people here, and we learn from one another. The working environment is really good and people readily help each other out.”

Why is your research useful to society?

“Ha ha, that might be a little tricky, arguing that it is decidedly useful to society. However, my research is based on what we call One Health, i.e. that there is a connection between animals’ health and humans’ health. I learn a lot from research into human conditions – and I hope that there are others who will be inspired by my research.

Furthermore, I help treat a real problem: obesity, which is a problem for 25-30% of all dogs and cats. It diminishes their quality of life tremendously, because they suffer problems with their joints as well as diabetes – so for animals, being overweight is not a good thing neither. And talking about it is not easy for owners or vets.

 

In Denmark having a good time is often connected to eating. And food also plays a big part in the interactions between pets and humans. Many people find it comforting; they believe that slight overweight is an indication that cats and dogs are well looked after. There is something Garfieldy about it – you know the fat ginger cat that is also a little naughty. But it’s actually really serious. It’s kind of a luxury mistreatment.”

Talk about a career high

“That was when I received my postdoc-grant from the Research Council. For three years I was allowed to conduct research into obesity and diabetes in cats. It’s hard – and there is a lot of competition from people doctors. I guess I worked on my centimetre-thick application for six months. And I was very nervous before the final decision. It’s that type of decision that can determine your future. So it was a very special day, when I finally got the go-ahead.

I had read an article about the metabolic syndrome in humans. It was about when obesity starts affecting one’s health. Obesity increases your blood pressure and cholesterol and you suffer chronic inflammation. I examined whether or not it was also the case for cats, and it has had great influence on my later work – it’s a foundation I have worked a lot from ever since”

What is the best thing about your job?

“My colleagues – I like coming to work. We work together as a team and that makes me feel good. And I’m also happy that I make a difference for animals as well as their owners.

I’m very fond of the varied work I do. I work in the clinic, do administrative work, give lectures and conduct research primarily through my PhD students. I shape the basis of what they will be examining further.

What do you do in your spare time?

“I spend it with my family. I have two boys, who are 15 and 17 years old. I’m also very fond of exercise. I run and ride a mountain bike. And I like to travel and experience different cultures, among other places I have visited Mexico, Thailand, Tanzania and Australia.”

Do you have pets?

“Yes, we have a dog, which actually came here to be put down. I was never really sure whether or not I wanted a dog, but once I saw her, there was no longer any doubt. It’s called Nelly – my son named it after Nelly Furtado. We also have a cat that simply decided to move in, and it just took us by storm. It’s called Suki – another name my son came up with.”