When your best friend becomes a lab test
Maybe it’s a case of man’s best friend making for an even better scientific paper.
Maybe, as much as I write about my dog, I have no room to talk.
In any event, at least as reported by Discover magazine, a UC Davis veterinarian’s dog got into the lab trash and consumed 15 agar plates containing thallium.
Thallium is a poisonous compound used in labs to isolate Mycoplasma fungi. (As the article points out, it has also been used by murderers, and was a favorite of Saddam Hussein.)
Being a vet, the dog’s owner did what he could, including administering intravenous fluids and, eventually, a gastric feeding tube. He took notes, ran tests and documented the one-year-old shepherd mix’s slow death in a study entitled, “Thallium toxicosis in a dog consequent to ingestion of Mycoplasma agar plates.”
According to an abstract of the paper: “Clinical signs over the course of 2-3 weeks included vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss, alopecia, dysphonia, ataxia, paresthesia, intension tremors, megaesophagus with subsequent aspiration pneumonia, and several seizure episodes.”
The owner/scientist measured Thallium concentrations in the dog’s hair and took blood samples at regular intervals.
After the dog’s death, the scientist/owner concluded, “Hair and blood samples are useful specimens to reach an accurate diagnosis even if taken several weeks post exposure. The postexposure blood and hair thallium concentrations reported in this case are useful data for diagnosticians investigating dogs with potential thallium poisoning.”
Not exactly the stuff of Jack London, but then again, this was a paper written for the Journal of Veterinary Diagnostic Investigation. Still, that the dog’s name is never acknowledged, despite her accidental contribution to scientific knowledge, is troubling.
Why does science have to be so cold? What would it lose by showing some heart?
The Discover magazine article, while putting things in slightly more understandable form, isn’t exactly touchy-feely, either:
“At the onset, the dog refused to eat and lost weight. And then things only got worse over several weeks as she lost control of her muscles, seized, caught pneumonia twice, and lost a third of her fur. She had to be fed through a tube. It took 10 months for her to even bark again…”
“While we’re glad this dog’s suffering was not in vain, we had to wonder how common thallium poisoning really is. Thallium used to be a common pesticide, but that’s been banned because it’s also such a potent human-cide. Outside of biology labs, thallium can be found in electronics and glass manufacturing or nuclear reactors, so please don’t bring your dog to work if your job is in any of those places.”
To me, the bigger question in all this, outside of whether anyone was neglectful, is how much and how long the anonymous dog suffered — whether she was kept alive for the purposes of gathering a little more data.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
It’s amazing how much scientists learn from dogs. What’s more amazing is how much they don’t.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 17th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: agar, animals, blood, davis, death, documented, dogs, ethics, experiment, hair, journal of veterinary diagnostic investigation, journals, lab, laboratory, pain, painful, paper, pesticide, pets, plates, poisoned, poisoning, research, samples, science, scientific, taken, thallium, toxic, university of california, veterinarian, veterinary