We Wish Our Pets Could Live Forever, But Is It Ethical to Clone Them?
Any pet lover knows that the grief of losing a cat or dog you love is deep and painful. So the idea of cloning—making an exact, living copy of your four-legged friend—sounds like a dream come true. But the truth is, pet cloning isn't all it's cracked up to be.
Is Pet Cloning Available in the USA?
It is possible for pet parents in the United States to have their cats and dogs cloned, but the process is ethically questionable. Cloning uses multiple dogs or cats to create one cloned puppy or kitten.
According to Scientific American, doctors surgically implanted 1,000 embryos into 123 dogs in order to create the world's first cloned puppy, Snuppy the Afghan hound, in 2005. Since then, the cloning process has been pared down, but still isn't easy.
How Much Does It Cost to Clone a Cat or Dog?
The price to clone a pet in the USA costs upwards of $50,000 for a dog and $35,000 for a cat. Plus, you have to find a veterinarian willing to take a tissue sample from your pet and send it to the cloning company.
What Happens When You Clone a Dog or Cat?
To clone a dog or cat, scientists have to conceive life in the lab. They take eggs harvested from donor animals, remove the nucleus (imagine separating yolk from egg white), and insert cells from the original pet.
According to Smithsonian Magazine, the egg then contains the full genetic material from the original pet. It doesn't need to be fertilized by sperm. But in order to kickstart cell division—something fertilization usually does—scientists run an electrical current through the egg turning it into a growing embryo.
The embryo is then surgically inserted into a surrogate mother dog or cat. If the embryo is accepted, pregnancy follows, and the hope is that the surrogate mother gives birth to a cloned kitten or puppy that's healthy. Like with normal breeding, the cloned pet is ready to go home after it's weaned.
Should You Clone Your Pet?
Cloning your pet is possible, but the primary question is whether it's right to do it. "Pet cloning companies spin this process as an exciting way to keep your beloved pet with you forever," says Robin Downing, DVM, MS, hospital director of Windsor Veterinary Clinic and correspondent for Top Vets Talk Pets. "But there's a dark underbelly involved that pet parents aren't aware of."
Downing explains that there are multiple reasons why you shouldn't clone your pet, including:
Reason #1: It's Not the Same Pet
The driving force behind cloning is the desire to have the exact same pet, in body and personality, with you for a longer period of time. The genetic makeup of a cloned pet is the same as the original. However, a cloned pet may look and act differently than you expect.
Take the first cloned cat—known as CC or Carbon Copy—who came out with entirely different coloring than the original cat, reports Britannica. That's because there are multiple color options on a cat's DNA and fur color is determined in the womb.
Also, your new pet will have an individual personality. While it's possible that Fluffy #1 lived for cuddles and soft treats, Fluffy #2 may be more of a hunter who wants to spend her days pouncing on insects or toys.
A pet's personality is a blend of genetics and their environment, Downing says. Outside forces like a pet's training and treatment, have a bigger impact on personality in puppies and kittens than their inherited temperament.
Reason #2: Lab Animals Lead a Sad Existence
In order to clone a cat or dog it takes numerous attempts. Downing says that the cloning process doesn't work about 75% of the time. Implanted embryos don't take to the surrogate, miscarriages happen, and pets are born with birth defects.
That means a whole host of cats or dogs have to be on hand to donate eggs and act as surrogates. These lab animals undergo procedures that mostly fail to produce a clone.
And it's not a pain-free process for the animals, either. Downing says that animals are "definitely harmed" during cloning. The egg donor is subjected to hormonal treatments and surgical egg harvesting. Surrogates receive multiple rounds of hormones to prepare for pregnancy and surgical implantation of embryos. Then, offspring who have birth defects suffer doubly, both in being created, and then when euthanized as a result of their deformities.
Reason #3: What Happens to the "Extra" Clones?
Because the majority of cloning attempts fail, multiple embryos containing the original pet's genes are implanted at the same time. This speeds up the process of getting one successful clone.
But what happens if two clones of the original pet are born healthy? Will that extra copy of your kitty or pup be euthanized? Downing says it's not clear what happens to the extra pet created.
The bottom line: Saying goodbye to your four-legged friend is hard. But cloning is not a good solution. In addition to its other downsides, it also robs you of the chance of knowing (and loving) a new cat or dog. A fur baby who, given the opportunity, could bring a lot of light and laughter into your life, too.