Every year millions of dogs are killed in humane societies
and shelters. Rather than simply kill them outright, it has been suggested
that the doomed dogs be sent to research laboratories, so their deaths
could be in the service of mankind. Dogs have long been used in medical
experimentation, but are they a necessary adjunct to medical advance?
Let's take a brief look at the contributions of the canine to human
Proponents of pound seizure, and all animal
experimentation, for that matter, argue that dogs are essentially
four-footed furry humans. After all, to paraphrase Shakespeare, "hath not
a dog eyes, if a dog is cut does not he bleed" and so on.
Superficially, we seem rather similar. Both dogs and man
have a four chambered heart, are composed of cells and breast-feed our
young. Such similarities make one wonder why it is deemed appropriate to
send medical students to one school and veterinarians to another. The need
for two such institutions becomes more readily apparent on closer
examination. On a cellular level, dogs and humans diverge dramatically.
And it is on a cellular level that most of today's research is done.
Cellular differences determine such things as incidence, clinical
manifestation and prognosis of diseases, response to therapy and
susceptibility to toxins.
Have you never wondered why stroke, the number three
killer of man, is extremely rare in dogs? Why doesn't Rover get coronary
artery disease despite his notorious inattention to his cholesterol? How
can Fifi possibly get away with eating some disgusting thing in the
backyard and never even suffer indigestion? When Muffy had a routine
ovariohysterectomy (was spayed) she lowered her risk for breast cancer but
when mother under went the same procedure she was at increased risk for
osteoporosis. Why don't we vaccinate our children for parvo and treat our
elders for hip dysplasia? All of these differences can be traced to
seemingly small differences between man and canine.
These small differences between man and his putative best
friend have littered medical history with catastrophes when discoveries in
dogs have been applied to man. For example: Most of us have come to grips
with the idea that smoking causes cancer, at least in man. Dogs are
however extremely resistant to the cancer causing effects of cigarette
smoke. The tobacco companies were able to hide behind science's inability
to reproduce the obvious in dogs for many, many years and used such
research to "prove" that smoking was not unhealthy.
Interestingly, money is still poured into studying the
effects of smoking on animals. One of the more bizarre animal studies on
smoking was performed on dogs in 1987. Dogs with erections were forced to
inhale cigarette smoke. Most of the dogs failed to maintain an erection
after the smoke was inhaled. The researchers said this lent support to the
human observation that smoking interfered with a man's ability to maintain
an erection. (For those of us who don't smoke, it also explains why people
in movies are always seen having a cigarette after sex!)
Animal experimenters often tout the benefits of practicing
new surgeries on dogs. Stanford University pioneered heart transplantation
in the United States. Before their first human heart transplant, the
physicians performed the operation on approximately 400 dogs. Despite this
massive experimental experience, the first humans to receive hearts died
secondary to unforeseen complications. In 1980, Stanford had improved the
success rate to a 65% one year survival secondary to in vitro research and
clinical experience, with humans.
Even when one considers conditions that occur naturally in
both species, surgical outcomes need not correlate. Ruptured cruciate
ligaments, a knee injury common to both man and mutt are addressed quite
differently. Arthroscopic repair has revolutionized the procedure in man
and been, at best, disappointing in dog.
What about the idea that dogs can be used to test drugs
before giving them to humans. Surely, this is necessary to assure safety.
Or maybe not. The medical literature is littered with drugs that passed
muster on dogs but proved dangerous to man. To wit:
* Zelmid, an antidepressant, was tested on rats and dogs
without incident. It caused severe neurologic problems and liver damage in
* Clioquinol, an antidiarrheal passed tests in dogs. It
was pulled off the shelves all over the world in 1982 after it was found
to cause blindness and paralysis in humans. After the animal tests,
scientists had gone on record attesting that there is: "no evidence that
clioquinol is neurotoxic."
Closer to home, perhaps, are the common pain relievers
ibuprofen and acetaminophen, marketed commonly in such products as Motrin
and Tylenol. Although quite well tolerated by most humans they tend to
cause renal failure in dogs.
The idea that not all species respond similarly to all
drugs is hardly new. The inventor of chloroform, one of the first
anesthetics, commented in the 1800's: "Chloroform is so toxic to dogs,
especially the young, that had that anesthetic been tried first on them it
would have been withheld for many years from the services of man."
Even the idea of determining dosages on dogs for
application to man has been fraught with problems. For example, the
average man can take the same dose of diphenhydramine, a popular
antihistamine, as his miniature poodle, despite the fact that the average
man weighs 150 pounds to his poodles 20!
Domperidone was designed for nausea and vomiting. It made
the heart beat irregularly and had to be withdrawn. Scientists were unable
to reproduce this in dogs even with 70 times the normal dose.
The list of medical failures that can be directly traced
to animal experimentation goes on and on, but you get the idea. All of us
look forward to the day when responsible pet ownership obviates the need
for "man's best friend" to be killed in shelters. But until that day
arrives don't kid yourself that the dogs' "final sacrifice" in a lab is
for the greater good.
AFMA - Americans For Medical Advancement
Go on to Compassion For
Animals Action Symposium
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