Dogs Used in Toxicity Testing

If passed, the PET Act will make some of those tests illegal in California.
By Susan Tasaki, April 2021
Prevent Extraneous Testing (PET) Act, a.k.a. SB 252 California

It is disturbing to learn that in TheBark.com’s home state of California, approximately 600 dogs—most of them purpose-bred Beagles—are maintained in 10 facilities to serve as subjects for toxicity testing. The Prevent Extraneous Testing (PET) Act, a.k.a. SB 252, a bill now making its way through the California State Legislature, could change that.

In a toxicity test, an animal is exposed a chemical in order to determine if humans could be harmed by that chemical. These tests, which vary in duration, can be excruciatingly painful. Among the toxic effects the animals may suffer: vomiting, diarrhea, convulsions, respiratory distress, appetite or weight loss, rashes, salivation, paralysis, lethargy, bleeding, organ abnormalities, tumors, and even death.

Even worse, according to Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), the bill’s author, studies show that animal toxicity tests are unreliable, do not ensure human safety and have serious scientific limitations. Nearly 90 percent of drugs first tested in animals end up failing when later tested in humans—ironically, often due to unanticipated toxicity.

If passed and signed by the governor, the act will prohibit toxicological testing of products such as pesticides, food and color additives, and drugs on dogs and cats. It would not, however, affect testing required by federal statutes or biomedical research. It also exempts the testing of products intended for use with “nonhuman” animals, including animal vaccines, medicines, and flea and tick products, from the list.

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The act, sponsored by the Humane Society of the United States, was co-authored by Assembly Members Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) and Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). Senator Wiener, an animal-lover who grew up with dogs, is cautiously optimistic about its chances of becoming law.

“Dogs and cats should not be subjected to unnecessary and inhumane toxicity testing that doesn’t have useful health outcomes,” said Senator Wiener. “We should make sure that if testing is done on dogs and cats, that it is humane and has an actual medical value. Animals deserve better treatment and should not be subjected to harmful testing simply because they can’t say no.” 

As Sabrina Ashjian, California State Director for the HSUS, noted, “The life of a dog used in toxicity testing is one filled with fear and unnecessary suffering. This bill can protect hundreds of dogs each year. With modern technology, there is no need for these antiquated tests. We are so thankful to Senator Wiener for proving that once again, California is paving the way for animal welfare.”

Here’s a summary of the bill as it now stands: “This bill would prohibit a testing facility, as defined, from conducting a canine or feline toxicological experiment, defined as any test or study of any duration that seeks to determine the effect of the application or exposure of any amount of a chemical substance on a dog or cat, unless the experiment is conducted for specified purposes, including medical research or to comply with federal requirements pertaining to the approval or maintenance of a medical device.

“The bill would authorize the Attorney General, the district attorney of the county in which the violation is alleged to have occurred, or the city attorney in certain instances to bring a civil action for a violation of these provisions, punishable by a civil penalty not to exceed $5,000 for each day that each dog or cat is used in a canine or feline toxicological experiment.”

As of the date this article was written, the bill had been referred to the Senate judiciary committee. For more details, read the bill’s provisions and track its progress at California Legislative Information.

Photo: istock