Do cloned pets look and behave like the original?

(NEXSTAR) – Cloning may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but it’s already happening here in the United States. One company has the patented technology to clone cats, dogs and horses and will now do it for you – for a price.

Viagen charges $35,000 to clone a cat. Cloning a dog will cost you $50,000, and a horse is $85,000.

That is clearly a huge investment. What exactly do you get for your money?

First, Viagen needs a skin sample from a living or recently deceased pet. Many people turn to the company right after their pet dies, spokesman Melain Rodriguez said, and it’s possible to trade successfully if the death happened a few days ago and the body has been kept refrigerated.

Then the real science begins. The sample is shipped to the company’s lab in Texas, where skin cells are grown. It takes a few weeks for those cells to grow and multiply until there are about 1 million cells. These are then harvested, frozen and stored for as long as they are needed. (Viagen charges a lower rate for this genetic preservation: $1,600 plus a $150 annual fee, Rodriguez said.)

That’s phase one. When it’s time to clone the pet, the lab scientists take an egg from a donor animal and remove the nucleus from that egg. Then a nucleus from one of the millions of cells grown in Viagen’s lab is swapped, giving that egg the nuclear DNA of your original pet.

What happens next is owned by the company, Rodriguez said, but she explained it gave the egg “a small electric shock,” making it think it was fertilized without sperm. It begins to multiply and grow into an embryo, which is then implanted into a surrogate animal, which will eventually give birth to your cloned pet. Viagen transfers multiple embryos to increase the chance of success, so sometimes customers get multiple cloned puppies or kittens.

“What you have is an identical genetic twin of the original animal,” Rodriguez said. Do identical genes mean identical appearances?

“It’s like they’re identical twins,” Rodriguez said. “Identical human twins have the same DNA, but when identical human twins have freckles, their freckles are never exactly the same and in the same place, or moles or that sort of thing.”

“Freckles” and “birthmarks” are more like color markings on pets. If your dog has a white stripe down the center of its forehead, Rodriguez explained, the clone will usually also have a white stripe on its head, but it might not be the exact same size or placement.

The personality of the pet is a little more difficult to predict. “That’s probably the #1 question we get: how will the clone’s personality be compared to the original?” said Rodriguez.

While the personalities of the clone and the original may differ, their general dispositions are usually the same. If your cat is very scared, chances are his clone is too. If your dog is relaxed, the clone will probably be pretty chill.

“Temperament and intelligence have been shown to have a very strong genetic component, so those are things we see that are very similar in the cloned animals,” she said.

Sometimes there are quirks that the clone has that are eerily similar to the original pet, Rodriguez said. She’s heard customers say that their clone has the exact same favorite toy as the original, or likes to sit in the exact same spot in the yard. They make for good anecdotes, but they can also be coincidences.

Personality is a mix of genetics and environment, explains Rodriguez. “We caution the customer not to expect a reincarnation of the original pet.”

Leave a Comment