Dog Medicine and Dog Breeding

Science, technology, and life.
July 6 2009 2:01 PM

Dog Medicine and Dog Breeding

A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture tentatively approved a flu vaccine for dogs . The agency said the vaccine's purpose was "the control of disease associated with canine influenza virus infection, type A, subtype H3N8," which "has now been detected in dogs in 30 states." The vaccine was approved only after "the acceptance of data supporting product purity, safety and a reasonable expectation of efficacy."

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At the time, I thought this was a nice expression of man's love for his best friend. We don't just develop medicines for ourselves; we also make them for animals under our care. And we don't just treat your dog like, well, a lab animal; we test the vaccine first to be sure it's safe.

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Then I saw this follow-up from Donald McNeil Jr. in the New York Times :

Some veterinarians have found that the dogs that tend to die from [this flu] are the "brachycephalics"—dogs with short snub noses. Just as obesity has proved dangerous to human flu victims because of the weight on their chests, being bred to have a short, bent respiratory tract is dangerous for dogs. "It really puts a strain on their ability to breathe," Dr. Crawford said. "They can't move air in and out of their lungs."

This is the kind of thing that sickens me about dog breeding. This health defect we're so generously treating? We caused it. As I've noted before, dogs are a 15,000-year reckless genetic experiment . We've bred collies for vigilance, Rottweilers for aggression, and retrievers for obedience. We've given some dogs legs so short they couldn't run, and we've given others, such as the unlucky pooches now dying of H3N8 flu, noses so flat they couldn't breathe.

So congratulations to us. We're now trying to fix a problem we created. Will this teach us to stop breeding such defects into animals? Don't count on it. Some creatures are just slow to learn.

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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