Dogs and Research

Although dogs represent less than 1 percent of the animals used in biomedical research each year, their contributions to various fields of medicine are numerous.  What follows are some examples of recent and ongoing research using dogs.


Because their cardiovascular and respiratory systems resemble those of a human being, dogs have been instrumental to our current understanding of the functions and diseases of these organs.

  • Researchers have developed a process to stop and restart a dog’s heartbeat.  This was the first step in making it possible to operate on the heart.
  • Research on dogs led to development of the heart-lung machine, which allows surgeons to sustain life while performing heart sugery.1
  • Heart surgery techniques, such as coronary bypass surgery, artificial heart value insertion, and pacemaker implantation were tested and studied in dogs before being used in humans.2
  • Research with dogs has made it possible to correct the defect that causes blue babies.3 This surgical procedure corrects a congenital error in development of the large vessels connecting the heart to the lungs.
  • Procedures for treating emphysema were made possible through research on dogs.4
  • Dogs were vital to the development of angioplasty, in which a small tube is threaded up through the femoral artery to unblock coronary arteries.5


Dogs were the first animal used in the attempt to conquer rejection during organ transplantation.6  The 1990 Nobel Prize for medicine was awarded to researchers who studied the immunologic basis of organ rejection by working with dogs.  These studies resulted in the ability to transplant kidneys, hearts, lungs, livers and pancreases in human patients.


Through the use of dogs, researchers found that diabetics lack the hormone insulin.7 Surgeons are studying methods of transplanting the insulin-producing cells of the pancrease to extend and improve diabetics’ quality of life and treat complications accompanying the disease.8  They have already succeeded in transplanting an artificial pancreas into dogs, which they hope can lead to a permanent treatment in humans.9


Dogs are used to train emergency room physicians and nurses in lifesaving techniques to be used in trauma patients.

Studies in dogs for post-shock infections, heart complications, kidney function, blood pressure levels and anesthesia techniques have allowed doctors to correct previously irreversible conditions.10


Through research on dogs, scientists have gained extensive information on repairing fractured bones and saving the limbs of humans.  The artificial hip was developed in dogs and led to the invention of the current array of replacement and repair techniques for many types of joints, such as artificial knees and knuckles.11  Cartilage and tendon repair and the fusion of spinal vertebrae are among the procedures developed in dogs that now benefit humans and animals.12


Dogs are used to evaluate anesthesia equipment and methods and to evaluate anesthetic/tranquilizing agents.  Research with dogs also has resulted in design improvements in equipment used for maintaining a constant flow of oxygen through the lungs during anesthesia in dogs and humans. 13


Research on dogs has advanced and improved microsurgery, which has been vital to reattaching toes, fingers and arms that have been severed. 14


Research on the gastrointestinal tract of dogs has allowed surgeons to remove, reconstruct and mend the colon, intestine, and abdominal organs.


Dogs are exposed to certain products to determine what levels may be harmful or dangerous to human beings and what is the best treatment. 15  Dogs have been especially useful in studying the harmful effects of radiation. 16


  • Pavlov’s studies of dog physiology and psychology laid the foundation of behavioral research.  Knowledge acquired through these studies has been transferred to human behaviour analysis. 17
  • Behavioral studies made possible the training of guard dogs and dogs used to aid those who are blind and deaf.
  • Dogs have been useful for studying anorexia nervosa and other psychological traumas associated with food. 18


A colony of Brittany Spaniels has been developed to serve as a model for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, (ALS) commonly known as Lou Gerhig’s disease, which destroys nerves in the brain and spinal cord and strikes about 5,000 Americans a year.  The dogs have inherited disease that produces progressive paralysis similar to that found in human ALS.  Studies of the canine disease show that it is inherited as a dominant trait, as are some cases of the human disease.  Because dogs can reproduce quickly, genetic studies can provide insights that would be difficult to study in humans. 19


Studies in dogs have led to the development of devices and treatments for animals, including pacemakers, hip and artificial join replacements, diabetes treatments, dental care, chemotherapy and canine vaccines for disease such as rabies.


1 Deaton, JG: New Parts for Old. Palisades, NJ: Franklin. 1974.

2 Gay, WI: The Dog as a Research Subject. Physiologist 27:133-140.

3 Lupinetti, FM; Waring, TH; Huddleston, CB; Collins, JC; and others; Pathophysiology of chronic cyanosis in a canine model.  Functional and metabolic response to global ischemia. J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg 1985 Aug;90(2): 291-6.

4 Marco, V; Meranze, DR; Yoshida, M; and Kimbel, P: Papa induced experimental emphysema in a dog.  J Appl Physiol 33:293-299, 1972.

5 Jain, AC; Dedhia, HV; Savrin, RA; Withers, AS; Rochlani S: Laser and balloon angioplasty in chronic occlusion of femoral artery in a canine model. Am Heart J 1986 Apr;111(4):794-5.

6 Gay, WI: The Dog as a Research Subject. Physiologist 27:133-140.

7 Best, CH: A Short Essay on the Importance of Dogs in Medical Research. Physiologist 17:437-439.

8 Helling, TS; Christ, DA; Reinhardt, JR; Sinning, MA; and Murphy, PJ: Segmental pancrease transplantation in the canine model, a reappraisal. Am J Sug 146:838-843, 1983.

9 Sullivan, SJ; Maki, T; Borland, KM; Mahoney, MD; Solomon, BA; Muller, TE; Monaco, AP; Chick, WL: Biohybrid Artificial Pancreas: Long-Term Implantation Studies in Diabetic, Pancreatomized Dogs. Science, 252:718-721, 1991.

10 Seeley, SF; and Weisiger, JR (Editors): Recent Progress and Present Problems in the Field of Shock, Federation Proc. 20 Suppl. 9: 1-259, 1961. Mahoney, BD; Gerdes, D: Roller, B; Ruiz, E: Aortic compressor for aortic occlusion in hemorrhagic shock. Ann Emerg Med 1984 Jan; 13(1):11-6.

11 Stock, D; Gottstein, J; Griss, P; Winter, M and Heimke, G: Experimental results of stepped titanium shafts for hip endoprosthesis. J. Orthoped. 21:640-645,1983.

12 Manske, PR; and Lesker, PA: Nutrient pathways to extensor tendons within the extensor retinacular compartments. Clin. Orthop. 171:234-237,1983.

13 Gay, WI: The Dog as a Research Subject. Physiologist 27:133-140.

14 Gay, WI: The Dog as a Research Subject. Physiologist 27:133-140.

15 Gay, WI: The Dog as a Research Subject. Physiologist 27:133-140.

16 Shifrine, M; Bulgin, MS; Dollarhide, NE; Wolf, HG; Taylor, NJ; Wilson, FD; Dungworth, DL and Zee, Y: Transplantation of radiation-induced canine myelomonocytic leukemia. Nature London 232:405-406.

17 Pavlov, IP: Conditional Reflexes and Investigation of Physiological Activity of the Cerebral Cortex. Translated by GU Anrep. New York: Dove, 1927.

18 Kurstin, IT: Physiological mechanisms of behaviour disturbances and corticovisceral interrations. In: Abnormal Behaviour in Animals, edited by MW Fox. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 1968. P. 107-116.

19 Cork, LC; Griffin, JW; Munnell, JF; Lorenz, MD; Adams, RJ and Rpice, DL: Hereditary canine spinal muscular atrophy. J. Neuropathol. Exp. Neurol. 38-209-221. 1979