Every year, 12 million cats and dogs in the United States are diagnosed with cancer. For their owners, that diagnosis is both emotionally and financially devastating. The initial cancer diagnosis alone can cost $2,000. Subsequent chemotherapy and radiation can run up to $10,000.
Fortunately, scientists are on the cusp of discovering treatments that could help pets with cancer at a much lower cost – if we let them continue the animal medical research needed to make those discoveries. But all over the country, self-professed animal lovers are lobbying for limits on – or even an end to – medical research involving animals.
That's counterproductive, because animals are among the primary beneficiaries of such research. Consequently, animal lovers should be among the biggest supporters of animal medical research.
Consider work that's underway at the University of Minnesota. Earlier this year, scientists began clinical trials for a new treatment for hemangiosarcoma – a cancer that emerges from the blood vessels and kills half of dogs that contract it within six months. In the trial, the new therapy boosted six-month survival rates by 70 percent.
Or look to Colorado State University's Flint Animal Cancer Center, where clinical veterinarians conduct long-term outpatient studies for a variety of new treatments. Earlier this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a drug tested at the center that helped 80 percent of dogs with lymphoma, a cancer that develops in the immune system.
Pets are already benefitting directly from this research. Take Q Bentley, a dog from Washington, D.C., profiled by Bioscience Technology, a trade journal for scientists. Earlier this year, Q was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given only a few months to live.
Her owners decided to enroll her in a clinical trial for a new treatment at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. Within a matter of weeks, Q's tumor shrank 50 percent. She's now happy and healthy.
Dogs aren't the only beneficiaries of such cutting-edge research. A new intravenous treatment developed at the University of Illinois has been shown to halve the size of tumors in cats with certain types of mouth cancer.
Some scientists are developing interventions that can prevent animals from getting cancer in the first place.
Years of animal trials have yielded a vaccine that shields cats from feline leukemia virus, which kills 85 percent of persistently infected cats within a few years.
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin have identified a protein that's present in greater-than-normal quantities in dogs with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that afflicts more than 10,000 dogs a year. Eight in ten of these dogs don't live more than a year after their diagnosis. Future research could determine whether the protein actually causes tumor production – and which genes are responsible for ordering higher concentrations of the protein.
Despite all this scientific progress – and the many animals that have benefited from it – nearly half of all Americans oppose research in animals, according to a recent Gallup survey. Almost six in 10 voters want to cut federal funding for testing on dogs and cats.
Animal rights activists are, bizarrely, taking their fight to the humans who are actively saving animals – cancer researchers.
Consider People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This fall, PETA launched a public pressure campaign calling for Texas A&M scientists to stop research in dogs that could yield new treatments for muscular dystrophy, which can afflict dogs, cats and humans alike.
If groups like PETA were serious about their advocacy on behalf of animals, they'd lobby for even more research like that at Texas A&M, which could save countless pets – and humans, too – from a lifetime of pain and suffering.
Animal research gives sick pets a second chance – and lays the groundwork for treatments that could save others down the line. It's also responsible for some of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medical history, including the eradication of smallpox, innovative treatments for malaria, and the management of diabetes. All of these developments have helped both animals and humans.
Animal lovers should support animal research, not condemn it. Such research ensures that our beloved pets will be able to live longer, healthier lives.