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Dublin: 4 °C Friday 25 April, 2014

The history of the two-headed dog experiment

The stuffed dog toured Germany for the past two years but is now back in Riga’s Museum of History of Medicine. Here’s its full story.

The shocking image of the dog with two heads.
The shocking image of the dog with two heads.
Image: Photas/Tass/Press Association Images

VLADIMIR DEMIKHOV WAS a pioneering surgeon.

Without his contributions to science and medicine, organ transplant and coronary surgery may not be as developed as it is today – a fact that is not well known because his papers were written in Russian while living on the bleaker side of the Cold War and through World War II.

Some of his peers noticed though.

Christiaan Neethling Barnard, the South African cardiac surgeon who performed the world’s first successful human-to-human heart transplant, said in 1997: “I have always maintained that if there is a father of heart and lung transplantation then Demikhov certainly deserves this title”.

Gazing back at Demikhov’s early experiments that led to many successes in the operation rooms, however, can offer an uncomfortable experience.

He was the first person to perform a successful coronary artery bypass operation on a warm-blooded creature but, yet, became more famous for his two-headed dog.

In fact, many of his  experiments were carried out on dogs. He transplanted lungs and hearts, took organs out to see how long dogs would survive and watched their reactions to the new organs.

By far the most unusual experiments and surgeries included the transplantation of the head or half the body. In 1948, he wrote about the “surgical combination of two animals with the creation of a single circulation”.

(Photo ITAR-TASS / P. Khorenko; Juzef Mosenzhnik)

In this image, Demikhov shows photographers how he stitched the head and upper body of a two-month-old puppy onto the neck of a four-year-old mongrel Mukhtar.

The work was carried out in the reanimation lab of the A.A.Bogomolets Physiology Institute of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences.

In 1968, Demikhov transplanted another puppy’s head onto the neck of another dog. The creatures survived for 38 days. Its bodies were then stuffed and in 1988 given to Riga’s Museum of History of Medicine.

For the past two years, it has travelled around Germany for exhibitions. It returned to Latvia earlier this week.

(Warning: Graphic images that some viewers may find too disturbing)


(YouTube Credit: RussianFootageCom)

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