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If you could, would you prolong the life of your pet?


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    Student Opinion

    A new drug could help extend the lives of dogs. Would you give it to your pet?

    A small Shih Tzu standing on an exam table is held by a veterinarian who is wearing bright maroon scrubs and a colorful mask. Another veterinarian, wearing a black top and a black mask, takes a sample from the dog.
    Renzo, an 11-year-old Shih Tzu who participated in a study led by Loyal, one of the biotechnology companies working to create drugs that seek to extend dogs’ lives.Credit...Loyal

    Do you have pets, or have you ever had one? Would you like to have one?

    Have you experienced the loss of a pet? If so, what was it like for you? If not, is it something you think about happening one day?

    Many pet owners say there is not much they wouldn’t do to extend the lives of their pets. Is this true for you? Would you make your pet live longer if you could?

    In “Could a Drug Give Your Pet More Dog Years?” Emily Anthes writes about medication that could extend the lives of our canine companions:

    The life of a pet dog follows a predictable trajectory. Over time, the floppy-eared puppy that keeps falling asleep in his food bowl will become a lanky-legged adolescent with an insatiable interest in squirrels — before eventually settling into adulthood as a canine creature of habit, with a carefully chosen napping location and a well-rehearsed greeting ritual.

    But as the years progress, his joints will stiffen and his muzzle will gray. And one day, which will inevitably arrive too soon, his wagging tail will finally still.

    “When you adopt a dog, you’re adopting future heartbreak,” said Emilie Adams, a New Yorker who owns three Rhodesian Ridgebacks. “It’s worth it over time because you just have so much love between now and when they go. But their life spans are shorter than ours.”

    In recent years, scientists have been chasing after drugs that might stave off this heartbreak by extending the lives of our canine companions. On Tuesday, the biotech company Loyal announced that it had moved one step closer to bringing one such drug to market. “The data you provided are sufficient to show that there is a reasonable expectation of effectiveness,” an official at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration informed the company in a recent letter.

    But some ethicists worry about what it might mean if drugs like LOY-001, the one created by Loyal, succeed:

    The dogs themselves cannot give consent, they noted.

    “Is it in their best interest to live a little bit longer when there’s some risk to taking these drugs?” said Rebecca Walker, a philosopher and bioethicist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who said she would not give a longevity drug to her golden retriever. “Or is it really in the best interest of their owners, who are very attached to them?”

    So far, the worst side effect of LOY-001 has been mild and temporary gastrointestinal distress, Ms. Halioua said, although she acknowledged that the bar for safety would be “extremely, extremely, extremely high.”

    Longevity drugs are intended for healthy dogs, which changes the risk-benefit calculus. “It’s one thing if a dog is on death’s door and you’re giving them some late-breaking treatment,” said Bev Klingensmith, a Great Dane breeder in Iowa who also has a Great Dane and a golden retriever of her own. “Giving my young, healthy dog a brand-new drug would seem a little scary.”

    Even drugs that deliver on all their promises will raise ethical questions. “If animals are living longer, do we have the resources and commitment to provide lives worth living?” Dr. Anne Quain, a veterinarian and an expert on veterinary ethics at the University of Sydney, said in an email. “What if we see more dogs outliving their owners?”

    Reforming the breeding practices that have contributed to life-shortening health problems in many dogs and expanding access to basic veterinary care might be a better way to improve canine lives, she added. “We can save many ‘dog years’ by ensuring that as many dogs have access to that care as possible,” she said.

    And while scientists gather more data on potential longevity drugs, there are steps that dog owners can now take to foster healthier aging, experts said, including keeping their dogs lean and providing ample exercise and mental stimulation.

    Students, read the entire article and then tell us:

    • Do you think humans should extend their pets’ lives with longevity drugs like the one from Loyal? What do you see as the benefits? What ethical concerns, if any, worry you?

    • If you could lengthen your pet’s life with a drug, would you? Why or why not?

    • How important do you think research into life-extending medicine is? Experts suggested several other ways humans could lengthen the lives of dogs, including reforming breeding practices, expanding basic veterinary care and keeping pets healthy. Should we prioritize solutions like those over medication?

    • As the article notes, canine longevity has recently started to attract more attention, in part because it raises the “tantalizing possibility that scientists might be able to find drugs that had the same life-extending effects in people.” Are you excited about a future in which humans and animals could potentially live longer? Why or why not?


    Students 13 and older in the United States and Britain, and 16 and older elsewhere, are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public and may appear in print.

    Find more Student Opinion questions here. Teachers, check out this guide to learn how you can incorporate these prompts into your classroom.

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