Humans Can Benefit From Surgery On Cats & Dogs


Veterinarians at the Royal Veterinary College’s Queen Mother hospital for animals (QMHA) in England believe that humans can benefit from surgery on cats and dogs. That’s because many diseases are shared by both humans and cats and dogs and they believe it is time that animals and human medicine started learning from each other. In fact human and veterinary medicine should be united says the  American Veterinary Medicine Association.

Here’s one example of how humans can benefit from animal surgery.

“A  neurosurgeon called Patrick Kenny is about to insert two stainless steel pins into Harry’s skull. To these he will fit a clamp, immobilising Harry’s head. His jaws will be wedged open. Then Kenny will cut a tiny hole through the back of the roof of Harry’s mouth and, in an operation that will last more than four hours, set about removing a pea-sized tumour from a vital gland at the base of his brain.

Harry is a cat. A 12-year-old maine coon, in fact. He’s a big old fella, as maine coons generally are, but Harry is considerably bigger than he should be, because the tumour on his pituitary gland is causing it to produce far more growth hormone than it should, a condition known as acromegaly. This has led to one of the disease’s most common complications: uncontrolled diabetes, as the excess hormone counters the effects of insulin.

So Harry has needed insulin injections, and lots of them: 12 units, morning and night. It’s miserable and according to Harry’s owners, Richard and Tracy Mills, it’s not making any appreciable difference. The options, says Stijn Niessen, lecturer in internal medicine at the Royal Veterinary College’s Queen Mother hospital for animals (QMHA) near Potters Bar, Hertfordshire (which is where we are), are not plentiful.

“You can continue controlling the diabetes with insulin,” says Niessen, as eight vets and nurses in surgical scrubs busy themselves purposefully around Harry, flat out on the table, “but that’s a bit like mopping the floor with the tap turned on. The tumour continues to grow slowly – but there will eventually be a neurological impact.”

There’s radiation therapy, but that is long and tough: between five and 10 sessions, each requiring a general anaesthetic, and with no guarantee of success. There are also drugs called somatostatins, which inhibit the growth hormone, “but they’re not generally very useful, at least not in cats”.

Or there’s this operation: “which is, well … rather new.”

After the operation, the tumor cells are to be examined to try and understand why this tumor has grown. The vision is that the information gained from this will point to new ways on how to treat this disease in humans.

When it comes to animal testing:-

“Around 80% of diabetic cats have Type 2 diabetes – the condition that’s costing the NHS £1m an hour,” he says. “There are similarities between inflammatory bowel diseases in dogs and Crohn’s disease, and between Cushing’s disease and hyperthyroidism in cats. Cancers: lymphoma, leukemia. I could name you 100 diseases humans and animals share and the list would not be complete.”

Human medicine, Niessen continues, puts “a lot of money and effort into trying to replicate these diseases, in mice for example. That can certainly help. But at best they’re basically models – not the naturally occurring disease. And yet in cats and dogs we have those very diseases, occurring naturally.”

It seems that convergence of animal and human medicine is right around the corner and that humans can benefit from surgery on cats and dogs and vice versa.




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