Aren’t animals different than people?
Don’t we have alternatives to animal research?
Is all research on cats, dogs and primates?
Don’t the animals suffer in experiments?
Who cares for animals’ welfare in labs?
If your question relates to claims made by animal rights activists you may wish to check out our “AR pseudoscience” page.
Humans and other animals are more similar than one might think. Our biological similarities allow for human conditions to be modeled in animals. It can be challenging for scientists to choose what they believe is the best animal model for a specific disease since there are some genetic and physiological differences between species, just as people differ from one another. Animal models of human diseases are only as good as our understanding of that human disease at a given time. Science is an evolving process and each animal model of a condition furthers basic biological understanding and contributes to therapeutic advancements, even if the specific details of how the future therapy will be are not clear when the basic research that ultimately underpins it is undertaken.
The Animal Welfare Regulations require scientists to “reduce, refine and replace” (The 3Rs) the use of animals in research, and this is done to the extent that is possible. In every university or research institution in Europe and North America there is some form of review panel that must approve new research projects, ensuring they adhere to the 3Rs principle. In the US, this review panel is known as the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee that supervises every research project and makes sure that it complies with this requirement. Nevertheless, completely eliminating animal research without compromising the whole biomedical research enterprise is not currently possible. Computer modeling, micro-dosing, MRI scanning and in vitro testing are often touted as alternatives to the use of live animals. However, it is highly doubtful that they will ever completely replace the use of animals in research. The reason for this is that every scientific method is designed to answer a particular type of question, so that methods that use animals, cell cultures, computer models or imaging of the human body complement each other but cannot replace each other. For example, computer modelling can only be done if we already have information to put in the model. There is no way of acquiring this information other than going into a living organism to look for it. In vitro experiments, which are done with molecules (like proteins or DNA) or cell cultures, are very good to unravel mechanisms that happen inside the cell, but are not always so useful to find out how different tissues and organs interact inside the body. For the foreseeable future, we will need to use live animals to answer some of the most important scientific questions related to human health.
No. Mice, rats, birds and fish account for 95% of all research animals in the US and UK. Less than 1% of research studies involve cats, dogs and primates.
Researchers, veterinarians and animal care staff make every effort to minimise pain and suffering within labs. Many of the procedures carried out on animals involve no pain or discomfort, such as observing their behaviour or collecting tissue samples after the animal is dead. Nonetheless, some procedures will involve pain or discomfort when the nature of the experiment makes it unavoidable. In some cases the study of, and the evaluation of therapies for, painful medical conditions such as severe infection or injury may have the potential to result in significant levels of pain and discomfort. In these cases efforts will be made to alleviate pain, for example by using anesthesia and analgesia during and after surgery, though just as with human patients it is not always possible to alleviate pain completely. In the UK in 2015 just 4.5% of animal research procedures were classified as ‘severe’, meaning a major departure from the animal’s usual state of health and well-being. However, the level of pain and discomfort is kept to as low an intensity and short a duration as possible.
Some experiments may involve stress as a variable in the study. But, precisely because of that, the scientist knows exactly how much stress the animal has suffered by monitoring the amount of stress hormones in the blood. Stress is not permitted to be too high or to last too long. Cats and dogs kept as pets and animals in the wild may often encounter higher stressors than those that scientists are allowed to give to research animals.
There are strict regulations in place to ensure that animals in research do not suffer unnecessarily. In fact, animal research is the most heavily regulated activity involving the use of animals. In the US, all procedures must be approved by an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to ensure that they follow laws and regulations like the Animal Welfare Act and Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Animals. The IACUC carefully examines how every animal is going to be used, paying close attention to the pain and stress involved in all procedures. Of course, suffering is not limited to pain and stress; an animal can suffer when its biological or social needs are not met. All animals are cared by specialized veterinarians that supervise their well-being. Besides providing animal with food, water and a clean, comfortable living environment, it is mandatory to enrich that environment with toys, hiding places and other things. Social animals (like rats) have to be housed in groups. In summary, researchers do everything possible to minimise any suffering on the part of the animals they use in research, and where suffering is unavoidable they take every possible measure to reduce that suffering to an absolute minimum.
Everyone involved with animals in labs cares about their welfare. There are numerous professional groups that are actively involved in the welfare of laboratory animals. Animal care technicians, specialized veterinarians and scientists are all dedicated to the welfare of the animals in their care. These animals are treated with compassion and respect by the professionals that care for their daily physical and psychological needs.
The use of animals is highly regulated with numerous national, regional and local laws, regulations, policies and guidelines set in place to ensure the oversight of studies. The animals’ welfare is of extreme importance to the highly trained professionals caring for these animals and it is their duty to report any concerns.
Replacement, reduction and refinement guide the ethical use of animals in science. Researchers must replace or avoid the use of animals where they would have otherwise been used, employ strategies that will reduce the number of animals used and continuously refine and modify experimental and husbandry procedures to minimized pain and distress.