This is the second part of a four-part blog series on the ways animal research helps animals. Part one can be found here.
Emma, my pet beagle, was about a year old when my family adopted her. Initially, she seemed like a healthy dog, aside from some abandonment issues. At her first yearly checkup, though, we discovered she had heartworms.
Thankfully, there is an effective, arsenic-based treatment available for dogs with heartworms. And Emma is living a healthy life today because of research in lab beagles to develop it and ensure its safety.
Cancer and Pets
Neoplasia, or uncontrolled cell growth like in cancer, is the leading cause of death in adult dogs, according to a paper published in the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Cancer is less common in cats, though they, too, can develop tumors and blood disorders. Many of the cancers in cats and dogs are similar to the cancers affecting people. If you think about it, you realize our pets live in the same environments we do, so they are exposed to many of the same carcinogens and, therefore, develop similar cancers. Clinical trials with dogs and cats can offer a more accurate look at a drug’s effectiveness in both our pets and ourselves. And the number of cancer trials with pets is on the rise, giving hope that both pets and people with cancer will see ever-improving treatment outcomes.
Medicines that Help Both People and Pets
Many medicines developed for human patients happily prove to be effective in dogs and/or cats. Dogs with anxiety respond well to fluoxetine hydrochloride, more commonly known as Prozac. Prozac was developed with the help of mice, rats and dogs. Rapamycin, a common anti-rejection drug given to organ recipients after transplantation, is being given to companion dogs to improve their heart health and extend their lives. Rapamycin was studied in rodents, pigs and primates and has proven to be a lifesaving medicine for both people and pets. Cats with hyperthyroid disease are treated with radioiodine – a common treatment for human thyroid disease. It is also used to treat prostate cancer, intraocular (eye) melanoma, and carcinoid tumors in people. This is just a small sample of medicines that help both people and pets, as the disease-fighting properties and therapeutic benefits of medications often do not discriminate between species.
Vaccines and Pets
Vaccines are very important for ensuring the future health of puppies and kittens. Just as human infants and toddlers receive vaccines against childhood diseases in a doctor’s office, our pets routinely receive vaccinations in the veterinary clinic. Rabies is dangerous to pets, as well as to humans, because it can be transmitted through animal bites. In 1885, Louis Pasteur developed a rabies vaccine with rabbits, which now protects both people and pets. But rabies isn’t the only disease we vaccinate pets against – in the 1970s, canine parvovirus (often referred to as parvo) began affecting dogs. A highly contagious disease, most puppies under 5 months old that contracted the virus died. It wasn’t until 1982 that a vaccine was developed, thanks to studies in laboratory dogs. And now countless companion dogs have benefitted from this vaccine.
Sometimes, the development of vaccines for pets can help humans too. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) is very similar in structure to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Don’t worry, though, cats cannot give us FIV nor can we give them HIV. FIV was discovered around the same time as HIV, and have similar risks of becoming an epidemic, as FIV is contagious to other cats. Thus, studies in FIV provide valuable information which could inform the development of an HIV vaccine.
From cancer treatments to vaccines, the undeniable truth is our pets are benefitting from the major contributions lab animals make to the research and discovery process.