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From 21 March 2004 Issue

Rover's Revenge

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 health.

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 humans.

* 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
http://www.curedisease.com/ 

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