The Perfect Clone: Should we clone our elderly pets?

Veterinarian Barry Baum, of Center-Sinai Animal Hospital. discusses cloning pets, and whether it matters whether the cloned pet is elderly.

Pet Health Care Article by Dr. B: cloning pets?

As of this writing in 2006, within the next few months pet owners will be exposed to the opportunity to clone their pets.

I was informed so last week by a representative of a company called “Forever Pet” who extolled the virtues of this developing science. The initial fees for obtaining live tissue for cell banking will cost approximately five hundred dollars and there is a monthly storage fee of $19.95. The actual cost of doing the cloning is a bit fuzzy at the moment but the company anticipates that the process will be economically viable at a cost of around three thousand dollars— beginning in the year 2007. To date, a cat has been successfully cloned and a dog clone may be perfected within a year. So at this point, the company isn’t really a cloning company– it’s in the business of cell banking, waiting for the day that the actual cloning process is commercially available.

I pride myself on being a consumer advocate, very protective of my clients, wary of the scams that are used when the emotional vulnerability of a pet owner can be exploited. Several interesting facts emerged from the discussion with Forever Pet. The industry is not regulated and no licensure of facilities is in place. Most of the research being done is being coordinated through the veterinary colleges at the University of Pennsylvania and Texas A&M. Professors at both institutions confirmed the validity of their research, but stated that the final product was several years away.

I had been concerned when I was told that more than half the tissue specimens being preserved for their living DNA had been obtained from elderly pets on the verge of dying or from pets that had died within 48 hours of obtaining the tissue. My concern was that this old DNA would have a head start on deterioration in the bodies of the new clones thus dramatically effecting their life spans. Happily the scientists agreed that although genetic material from young donors was easier for them to grow, the actual effects on longevity of the clone were minimal.

The Texas researchers were taking the cloning process one step further. They were trying to purrfect a cat that was hypoallergenic! They had identified a protein in the saliva of the cat, which they claim is the primary stimulant for allergic responses in people. What is more, however, is that they have specifically identified the gene that produces this protein, and by removing that gene, the cat would produce saliva free of the protein thus rendering it non-allergenic.

There is no doubt in my mind that this process will be perfected. I have no moral objections to cloning as it is the logical extension of the genetic selection that we presently do to increase the productivity of our livestock or the function and beauty of our pet animals. My real concern is whether the expectations arising from the cloning can ever be truly met. So much of our relationship with a special pet is dependent on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is no mere coincidence that the pets that I have bonded with so strongly were an English Bulldog named PIF (Pushed In Face) who was my constant companion in my single days and the present love of my life, Fessie (the cutest French Bulldog) who came on the scene as my wife, Linda, and I became empty nesters. The excitement and uniqueness that evolves from your relationship with your pet may be the singlemost argument yet against trying to relive your past with a clone. As much as I have, and do, enjoy the pets in my life, it is the distinctiveness of the bond that has me looking forward to new experiences in the future.

UPDATE 2015: Cloning pets is a procedure that is possible at the time of this writing. You can Google the term to find a company to perform the procedure if you are interested in pursuing it.


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