As our readers know, this page only reports humane studies involving dogs who lead normal doggy lives. This is similar to how human children participate in studies – their parents agree to allow them to participate, and they can stop participating at any time due to stress or discomfort. However, there are still studies occurring around the world where dogs are used as instruments in experimentation and held in labs. More than 200,000 dogs worldwide are used in research to test drug toxicity for humans, which could cause pain, suffering and distress. Dogs are used even though a major difference in the cytochrome P450 ‘CYP’ enzyme (which metabolizes drugs) causes these results to have low predictive power for humans. How can we stop this? By studying the cognitive lives of dogs through fMRI research, we can demonstrate to legislators that dogs do in fact lead cognitively rich, sentient existences, and deserve protection from these experiments.
fMRIs are noisy, and sometimes uncomfortable, but dogs can be trained to feel comfortable in them overtime. Once comfortable in the scanner, scientists can see real-time brain activity in order to better understand the minds of dogs. We now know that dogs have similar activation in a region termed the caudate nucleus – associated with things like social rewards and positive emotion and expectations. This area has been shown to activate when dogs are given hand signals associated with food, and when they smell the scent of a familiar human. The canine brain has also been found to have a “voice area”, which processes emotionally charged vocalizations similarly to human brains. fMRI evidence has also indicated activation of the midfusiform gyrus, a brain region associated with facial processing, demonstrating that dogs have developed an intricate neural region dedicated to understanding human faces. These studies, along with many others, indicate that dogs lead rich cognitive lives, feeling emotions and social connections with humans. This evidence demonstrates that dogs have the cognitive capacity to feel emotions and understand complex social relationships – let’s keep them out of painful toxicity studies.
Bailey J., Pereira S. (2018) Advances in neuroscience imply that harmful experiments in dogs are unethical. J Med Ethics, 44: 47–52. doi:10.1136/medethics-2016-103630