The author’s brother with his dog, Archie, pictured left

Fondly called “little old man” by his family, Archie certainly sounds like one, as his hacking cough disrupts playtime with his siblings. Archie, a 7-year-old Keeshond, has a case of kennel cough. Because he is otherwise healthy, the infection will pass shortly, but in the meantime to alleviate his symptoms he has been prescribed cough medicine. “Archie is family,” Archie’s owner/dad Max Eaton says. “I want him to be around for as long as possible, so if it’s vaccines, or medicine for when he has an allergic reaction to something, or when he had the flu and needed an IV a few months ago…I want him to get whatever help he needs.”


This cough syrup prescription will help soothe his cough until the bacteria is out of his system. Hydrocodone-homatropine cough syrup, originally developed for humans, is now used to treat symptoms in dogs. Hydrocodone Bitrate was first developed for pain relief in the 1920’s through research with cats and rabbits. While it was effective for pain relief, researchers observed a narcotic effect in the animal models, so they added another main ingredient, Homatropine Methyl bromide, after it was proved safe and effective in guinea pigs, rats, and mice, for use as a pain reliever that is less likely to cause addiction.

A high level of medical care is now the standard for our pets. They are increasingly seen as part of the family, and with better nutrition and veterinary care our pets are living longer than ever before. Americans are spending more and more on their pets, including on prescriptions and over the counter medications. These medications, developed first for human patients, required animal research to ensure they were safe for human clinical trials- the final step before approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Now, animals are directly benefiting from drugs whose creation relied on animal research, just like their human family members.

Today, dogs live in an estimated 60.2 million households. Between food, veterinary care, toys, and grooming, The American Pet Products Association estimates that last year Americans spent $66.75 billion on our pets. The largest area of growth is veterinary care: spending rose from $4.9 billion to $35 billion—from 1991-2015. Pet health care increasingly resembles human healthcare. Veterinary care was once generally considered an optional luxury, but now, even procedures once considered excessive are very common. For example, I was once expected to spend more than $1,000 for my elderly cat to undergo anesthesia for a routine dental cleaning. However, on graver, more serious health issues, pet owners often spare no expense for procedures supplemented with medications that were first developed for human patients.


This includes therapies for mental health problems like canine compulsive disorder. Similar to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, dogs with CCD are often prescribed Prozac to manage symptoms that include constant licking (which can in some cases excoriate the skin, causing wounds), tail chasing, and chewing rocks; not only life disrupting, but also dangerous. From infections, head injuries, and broken teeth, the symptoms can cause serious health complications. Thankfully a study at Tufts University led veterinarians to the conclusion that canines with CCD respond well to Prozac, which helps mitigate their symptoms. Prozac, is a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI). This class of drugs works by regulating chemical levels in the brain, increasing serotonin and noradrenaline, the deficiency of which is responsible for several neurological diseases. They were first developed in studies with rodents. Thanks to the animal models, SSRIs have since helped to treat depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and OCD in humans since the 1980’s and are now helping dogs with many of these similar conditions.

The pharmaceutical treatments now used to improve the quality of life for people and animals living with mental health conditions represents just one of the many outcomes of research with animals in efforts to help patients manage disorders like OCD.  The discovery of a canine gene  that appears to correlate with an increased risk of OCD in humans reflects the shared behavioral hallmarks of OCD and similar pharmacological responses to SSRIs. For this reason, many researchers consider dogs an ideal model for research related to treating OCD in humans—research for which dogs are also beneficiaries. With dogs, researchers have a clearer path toward finding effective OCD therapies for humans, while simultaneously improving the quality of life for dogs inflicted with CCD.


Quality of life has also improved significantly for diabetics, both human and canine. As the disease has become and epidemic for humans, it’s also a growing problem for our animals– Banfield Pet Hospital estimates that 2006-2015 saw a 79.7 percent increase in the number of diabetic dogs in the US. In pets with diabetes, vets often prescribe human insulin, which incidentally wouldn’t exist without canine research. Crucial in understanding diabetes, dogs helped researchers isolate insulin, then in 1922, after tests with rabbits, insulin injections passed clinical trials for use in the treatment of diabetes for people and canines. Most diabetic dogs have type one diabetes and require insulin shots; most cats have type two diabetes, which is managed with oral medications often used to treat people, like Acarbose and Glucotrol. Treatments for diabetes would not have been possible without animal research, and now animals and humans alike can live longer and healthier by managing their diabetes.

From Benadryl for allergies, to antibiotics, corticosteroids, and anti-inflammatories for fevers, human medications are now an important part of our pets’ healthcare. The ease with which we, especially in the Western World, can access lifesaving and life-improving medications can sometimes make it easy for us to forget the process by which they have been made available. Drugs must first prove safe and effective in ethical and responsible research with animals, before moving to clinical trials and then, finally, to the market. Now, thankfully, they are cycling back to help our pets. From preventative medicine, like vaccines, to the management of chronic diseases and conditions like diabetes or congestive heart failure, animal research is behind all of the treatments that improve and extend the lives of people and their pets.

By: Hannah Eaton, FBR Intern

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