Losing a pet is heartbreaking, but cloning won’t bring your furry friend back.
Like most of the technologies we cover that are already on the market, this one falls squarely into the “just because you can doesn’t mean you should” category. (Or just because Barbara Streisand did it doesn’t make it right.)
While cloning prices will go down as the technology grows in popularity, at the moment it costs about $50,000 for dogs and $25,000 for cats.
Companies that clone pets use a procedure called somatic cell nuclear transfer.
While your pet is alive, you contact a company (such as ViaGen) which will send you a sample collection kit. You’ll then take your pet to the vet in order to have a tissue biopsy performed. This tissue is sent back to the company whose lab techs then isolate and culture the cells and prepare them for cryogenic preservation until you decide to initiate the cloning procedure (this part of the procedure can cost from $1500-$2000).
Once you decide to go forward, you’ll likely pay a cloning deposit (with the rest of your fee due upon the delivery of your pet).
Female dogs and cats that belong to the company then have their eggs harvested and the nucleus removed so that it can be replaced with the cells from your pet. The embryo that’s created is then transplanted into a surrogate female cat or dog who will carry it to term and nurse it until it’s ready to be delivered to its new home.
Hormone injections are used on the surrogate to create an optimal environment for a growing pet fetus. Environment is key and must be controlled so that the fetus’ growth and development is not disrupted by outside forces like pollutants or other stressors (though this is impossible to ensure). This doesn’t make for a pleasant situation for the surrogate dog, who has no choice and receives no compensation in the matter. They’re merely tools in a more scientific version of a puppy mill.
If you know anything about the tricky process of human fertility and gestation, you know that there are no guarantees. It might take a few tries or not work at all (with ViaGen, you can have your cloning deposit back, but not the money you paid for the cryogenic preservation).
No company will guarantee that your pet will act or even look like the original. While the process produces a genetically identical version of your pet (an identical twin, of sorts), you can only be certain of getting the same breed and sex. The lab cannot control how the genes interact with one another inside the host dog, and while a genotype may be identical, the phenotype may not. Your clone could have different markings and not look identical to your original pet. Technically, they will be genetically predisposed to the same behaviors and learning capabilities, but just as with identical twins of any species, this could result in a radically different pet.
So, knowing this, is it worth the money and the suffering of surrogate animals?
Are Cloned Pets The Real Thing? (New York Times, 2018)
Inside the Very Big, Very Controversial Business of Dog Cloning (Vanity Fair, 2018)
The Real Reasons You Shouldn’t Clone Your Dog (Smithsonian Magazine, 2018)
You Love Dogs? Then Don’t Clone Them (New York Times op-ed, 2018)
Pet Cloning Is Not Just For Celebrities Anymore (Phys.org, 2018)
Pet Cloning Is Bringing Human Cloning A Little Bit Closer (MIT Technology Review, 2018)
To Clone Or Not To Clone (American Veterinarian, 2017)