This Synthetic Dog Will Revolutionize Veterinary Training

June 8, 2016 | Joanne Kennell

Synthetic canine by SynDaver
Photo credit: Courtesy of SynDaver Labs

Eliminating the need for cadavers.

This synthetic dog may look like something out of a horror movie, but it is an extremely useful tool for veterinary students.

Unfortunately, not that long ago, veterinarians in training would sometimes have to practice on live dogs and cats from shelters that were anaesthetised for the procedure and euthanized afterwards. This practice is called terminal surgery, and while most academic institutions have phased it out over the last 10 years, many are now looking for a viable alternative to give students the hands-on experience they need that’s more realistic than a cadaver.

Enter SynDaver Labs, a Tampa-based biotechnology company. SynDaver is the world’s leading manufacturer of synthetic humans, and in an effort to solve the outdated and controversial issue surrounding live animal testing, the company recently unveiled its new skinless breed of dog — the SynDaver Synthetic Canine.

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The SynDaver Synthetic Canine is not only a skinless dog, but it’s also an extremely detailed surgical trainer that breathes, bleeds, and dies. It will provide veterinary students with an anatomically accurate and realistic “dog” to practice procedures, and if the students make a mistake, they have to figure out how to save the dog before their fake patient dies.

SynDaver is known for its patented SynTissue, which mimics living tissue and functioning bodily systems that can be programmed to simulate customized diseases, illnesses, and medical complications. The synthetic dog has bones, muscles, ligaments, joints, and even a heart with a heartbeat, a circulatory system, and it bleeds when cut with surgical scalpels.

In addition to unveiling the SynDaver Synthetic Canine, the company announced the launch of a crowdfunding campaign to raise $24 million US on If the campaign is successful, SynDaver will provide up to 20 synthetic dogs to every accredited veterinary college around the world, completely free of charge. The colleges would only have to pay for maintenance and service fees.

Although terminal surgeries are not used as much as they once were, SynDaver claims that many veterinary colleges across the US and around the world still rely on the procedures to educate students. However, Daniel Fletcher, associate professor of emergency and critical care at Cornell University College of Veterinary medicine told the Tampa Bay Times that SynDaver is misleading people.

"I'm honestly not sure if any veterinary schools still have terminal dog surgeries as part of the core curriculum, but I know for certain that many of the schools I've been involved with stopped doing these procedures years ago," said Fletcher.

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Nevertheless, the Synthetic Canine would essentially eliminate the practise of terminal surgery, and also eliminate the need for canine cadavers, which are typically euthanized animals from shelters.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, the transfer of euthanized animals from shelters to educational and research institutions is permitted provided certain criteria are met:

  1. Any animal must have been humanely euthanized due to either a fatal illness or injury, or because no suitable home could be found for the animal within a reasonable time.
  2. Animal cadavers can only be transferred when the animal’s former owner has been informed and gives consent. If the animal was a stray, it has to be held the appropriate number of days for an owner to reclaim.
  3. Transfer should only be to institutions at the college level.
  4. There should be no exchange of money.

The University of Florida's College of Veterinary Medicine is currently testing one of the synthetic canines. This could be the start of the end of all live animal testing, which is a change several veterinarians welcome, including Michael Blackwell, former chief veterinarian of the U.S. Public Health Service.

“A significant number of students do not care to be involved in terminal surgery procedures or the use of live animals when there is an alternative,” Blackwell in a SynDaver news release. “I am so happy to have this change because that is where we need to be today.”

If SynDaver exceeds their $24 million crowdfunding goal, the company plans to begin working on the SynDaver Synthetic Feline. There are also plans to develop synthetic horses and cows.

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