Ethics

Dr. Cees Smit

Should we stop medical research on cats and dogs?

Cees Smit June 8th, 2011 2 Comments

57,000 people across The Netherlands have signed a partition to ban research and testing on cats and dogs. It would be interesting to know how many of these citizens were also loving pet owners? It’s an important question because over the past decade, the market for medical healthcare for pets has grown dramatically in comparison to healthcare for humans.

European society wants to take care of family pets, as it does for the rest of the family. Today, it’s normal for household animals to be attended to by specialized doctors, receive treatments, medicines and vaccines. Our pets are undergoing complicated operations and even cancer therapies to improve their quality of life. All this was made possible thanks to years of medical research, with animals.

In The Netherlands, 65% of dog research and 90% of cat research is to advance the health and safety of cats and dogs. 20% of all animal testing is for the development of veterinary drugs and vaccines. Furthermore medicine destined for animals must first be tested on healthy animals before being used in animal patients.

An example of a new treatment that has been made possible through research with dogs is gene therapy for people with impaired vision or who are blind. Briard dogs with Leber’s disease are born blind. Ten years ago research began with naturally blind Braird dogs to see if their vision could be improved. After successful results, gene therapies have also been performed on humans and as well as blind dogs. Watch this video “RPE65 Gene therapy” illustrating the results of gene therapy on a dog after one of its eyes was treated.

Even though the number of cats used for research is a lot less than dogs, there is an ongoing need for more research and better understanding of this species, be it pedigree or house cat, because more are kept as pets. Moreover, cats get their own kinds of illnesses like flu and Distemper.

So if we ban the use of cats and dogs in experiments we run the risk of not being able to protect them with new vaccines and medicines. It could potentially impact the development of some new medicines for humans. For example dogs are mostly used in research for heart and vascular disease in humans. However contentious that maybe, we shouldn’t ignore how veterinary developments are greatly benefiting from medical advances in humans.

Running parallel to this point, as we strive to improve the health of our animal companions, domestic animals are starting to suffer from similar modern illnesses found in humans. It’s not uncommon these days for dogs and cats to develop lifestyle diseases such as diabetes or heart disease, brought on through poor diet and lack of exercise, quite likely reflecting the owners’ own habits. Read the zebra fish post about heart research to learn more about modern diseases.

Now with these extra facts on the table bringing the consequences closer to home, it would be interesting to ask those 57,000 Dutch citizens if they still want to ban animal research.

Related content:

Neil Parish MP: balancing science and ethics in a political environment

What’s driving the increase in animal research?

Misconceptions: Animals are kept in appalling living conditions

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  1. Jason says:

    This smacks of a researcher afraid of his lab being shut down. I seriously doubt he “gets” it. Here’s a clue: healing an minor inconvience is not worth causing a major one.

    • edteam says:

      Hi, thanks for commenting and sorry for the delay in responding. That’s a valid point of view, could you maybe define further what you consider to be a “minor inconvenience”?

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