Here are some frequently asked questions (and their answers) about animals used in research that have been submitted by students.
1. Is there any limit to what is allowed to be tested on animals? Yes - projects that propose testing on animals MUST be scientifically justified and show a clear benefit for humans or other animals. If non-animal alternatives are available, animals are not allowed to be used (i.e. a tissue culture can be used to determine the safety of chemicals so that it is deemed "safe" before use on animals and then people).
2. Are some types of animals required to be given “play” time, like dogs? Animals housed in research laboratories are provided with environmental enrichment. Environmental enrichment is designed to allow the animals to perform species-specific behavior. It includes special housing features (including things like resting boards, swings, and hutches) to objects like treats and toys. Dogs are given special consideration and are required by law to have daily exercise. Non-human primates (nhps) are required by law to have environmental enrichment. Enrichment for nhps can include, going to a "play cage;" trying to get a special treat out of a puzzle feeder; or being offered other things like swings, toys, movies, radios, etc. Most research institutions have environmental enrichment programs for all of their species: mice and rats get nesting material or little hutches, rabbits and dogs get toys to chew on, cats and ferrets get little balls to play with, even the Xenopus, the African clawed frog, gets enrichment through items placed in the tank that can be used to hide.
3. How do they choose which animals to test? Each species offers a model for a particular area of study. For example, cardiovascular studies often use pigs because their anatomy and response to certain treatments are just like humans; flu studies use ferrets because ferrets get the flu just like people; hepatitis studies use woodchucks because they naturally develop hepatitis; but most studies (97%) use rodents, primarily mice, because of transgenic technology, mice have been bred to develop human diseases...these include, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancers, etc.
4. What would be the consequences if animal testing were reduced or eliminated? The consequences would be that medical and scientific advances would slow, then halt, and some say, even reverse.
5. What happens to the animals when the test is over? Most animals are humanely euthanized because in order to get all of the data needed to help advance medicine and science, tissues must be harvested and analyzed. If this data is not needed (meaning everything needed was able to be obtained without harvesting tissues), the animals are sometimes adopted out.
6. Where do they obtain the animals? Most animals are bred specifically for research. A very tiny percentage of animals are obtained from "Class B dealers" who obtain animals and "condition them" so that they can be available for research. These are rare and would only be used for things like aging studies, or studies that need animals that have parasitic infections for a long period of time or other diseases that cannot be induced in the laboratory. To obtain quality research data - animals must be healthy and their health history must be known.
7. What is the worst test done on an animal? I would say - before it was known that animals feel pain (yes - it used to be that people didn't think animals could feel pain) and before Russel and Burch (in the 1950's) advocated the 3 R's, attention was not as focused on animal welfare - I would say that the work done with animals before 1950 was probably the worst ever done. Since 1950 - the focus on good animal welfare = good animal science started to emerge. By 1985, when the Animal Welfare Act was amended, focus on minimizing pain and distress (and the requirement of the use of analgesics) became a major theme in the laboratory animal science industry. Today, pain is NOT allowed unless it is strongly, scientifically justified for the good of humans and animals. These studies make up less than 7% of work done with animals, and when pain is experienced, it is minimized as much as possible.
8. How many chimps die a year from research? Probably about 15-20 die per year due to old age or other clinical problems. It is illegal to euthanize chimpanzees for research purposes. Very few chimps are used compared to other animals. 97% of the animals used are rodents. Less than .5% are cats and dogs. Less than .1% of all animals used are nonhuman primates. About .003% of all animals used are chimpanzees, and out of this group they are "retired" to chimpanzee sanctuaries whenever possible. Most are used for HIV and Hepatitis research - two very important human diseases that need to be studied.
9. What are some of the requirements needed to run an animal research facility?
A ton!! To start, animal care requires:
Then, to use animals in research, you must have an IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee) which at the very least includes a chair of the committee, a veterinarian, and a member of the community not affiliated with the research institution. This committee is responsible for inspecting the animal research housing rooms and laboratories twice per year and reviewing the animal care and use program which includes:
IACUC's also have to read, review and approve (or not approve) EVERY proposal that will use animals. In other words, someone can't just walk off the street and say, I'd like to do research using animals - it must be scientifically justified and you must have all of the items (mentioned above) and many more in place.
10. Are most chimps put down after being tested? No - it is illegal to euthanize chimpanzees for research purposes due to the Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance, and Protection (CHIMP) Act passed in 2000. The CHIMP Act provides for retirement and lifetime care of chimpanzees not in active protocols, it prohibits breeding in federal retirement and it prohibits euthanasia for the convenience of a lab.
11. Are the animals given any pain medicines? Yes - it is required that they get pain medicine when needed. The only time they don't is if the research is specifically studying pain or for some other justified reason. In these cases, pain is minimized as much as possible.
12. Does any animal research result in the animals being returned to the wild? Not in biomedical research; however, conservation efforts and other types of animal research may allow the animal to be released back into the wild. There are different kinds of research (not biomedical research) that use wild animals (for example: researching methods to have elephant tusks grow back; or other animal conservation-type research) - in this type of research, animals are probably released back into the wild.
13. Are animals tested on repeatedly? Only if it is scientifically justified. In most cases, animals are only used for one research project.
14. What are the regulations about cage size? The Animal Welfare Act Regulations and the PHS Policy (through a document called "The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals") have detailed requirements for cage sizes of laboratory animals. At the very least, animals must be able to perform species-specific behavior and stand up, turn around, and rest comfortably. Most caging provided exceeds the minimal requirements. Dogs are given special consideration as the law requires that they get a specific amount of exercise - which means they must have a large enclosure or be allowed to run around outside of their enclosure for a certain amount of time each day.