AWI Position Statement

Laboratory rabbits - Michele Cunneen

Animal Welfare Institute Policy on Research and Testing with Animals

Research must not be conducted on animals unless, at minimum, the methodology fulfills the three “Rs” of Russell and Burch, including the following:

  1. the animals are maintained in an optimum, species-appropriate environment;
  2. the animals are under the care of professionally trained, compassionate personnel; and
  3. the animals' pain, physical discomfort, maladaptive behaviors, fear and anxiety are prevented or, at least minimized by considerate and scientifically sound experimental design and appropriate use of anesthetic, analgesic or tranquilizing drugs.

Detailed Policy

  1. All institutions that conduct research and testing with animals must refine the research methodology and reduce and seek to ultimately replace animals wherever indicated and possible. These efforts should be supported and funded by both the research-funding agencies and the research institution’s administration.
  2. If alternative yet equally effective methods of experimentation or testing are available, they must be used in preference to any experiment conducted with an animal, particularly an experiment that is likely to cause pain, fear or distress.
  3. Any experiment or test that inflicts trauma should be conducted with a fully anesthetized animal. If the procedure causes life-threatening injury, the animal should be euthanized following the procedure and before regaining consciousness.
  4. If an animal is subjected to surgery from which he or she is expected to survive, a pre-planned pain evaluation and pain management schedule must be developed. This schedule must account for overnight and weekend hours. The pain evaluation must contain specific signs, behaviors or physical parameters to be measured in the animal. Staff must ensure adequate and timely administration of pain relieving medications until the animal has recovered and is no longer in observable discomfort.
  5. Professional staff must be available at all times—day and night, weekends and holidays—to care for the animals. The staff must make rounds for the purpose of ascertaining the state of each animal’s health and well-being. The staff must be trained and authorized to dispense pain-relieving or tranquilizing drugs as may be necessary. While it may be a standard operating procedure to phone the investigator or director regarding such events, this action must not delay the provision of relief for the animal. Nursing care must be provided to all animals following surgery or other injurious interventions and to animals with chronic pathological conditions.
  6. Staff must be compassionate and well trained. Ongoing training regarding best practices must be provided. The staff must be observant and empowered to make its observations known to the director of the laboratory, veterinarian or another trained individual duly authorized to make animal welfare or humane endpoint decisions. For example, a moribund animal should be euthanized. An animal who is suffering should be—depending on the situation and the nature of the work—anesthetized or sedated and given supportive care such as fluids, soft food, and custom bedding and/or otherwise treated to alleviate suffering, or the animal should be euthanized.
  7. Housing for animals in research must provide sufficient space and materials to permit the expression of basic species-specific behaviors, including species-typical walking and stretching, foraging, retreating to a safe/sheltered place, burrowing and gnawing (rodents), climbing, perching and swinging (nonhuman primates), perching and scratching (birds), and rooting and wallowing (pigs). Social animals must be housed with one or several compatible conspecifics to address their biological need for companionship.
  8. The great majority of animals in experimentation and testing are purposely bred for sale to research facilities. This is the preferred method of acquiring animals. These animals must be raised in facilities whose standards of housing and care are equal to or better than those described herein for research laboratories. Following the legally mandated waiting period, dogs and cats at municipal pounds may be donated to veterinary schools where surgical training to conduct spays and neuters are done or other treatments are performed that are intended to facilitate adoption of the animals. After recovery, the dogs and cats should be returned to the pound where it is hoped that adoptive homes will be found for them.
  9. Only noninvasive research of direct benefit to the species’ own survival may be conducted on threatened or endangered species.
  10. Euthanasia must be considered a major responsibility. Staff carrying out euthanasia must be well trained, efficient in performing the procedure, and empathetic to the animals. The primary concern must be the animals. The location for conducting the euthanasia should be selected so as not to increase anxiety and fear. The method of euthanasia that is selected should ensure the quickest death possible. No animal should be discarded without monitoring him or her long enough after death to ascertain rigor mortis.
  11. Journals should expand the materials and methods section to include information regarding animal housing conditions, bedding type, enrichment, refinement, and details of supportive or analgesic care. The only information in most published articles is the species (or strain of rodent), sex and age—thus making it impossible for concerned scientists to find details needed to confirm sound methodology and trustworthiness of the research data and statistical results.
  12. Animals should be permitted to retire after termination of their assignment(s) to research, testing and education. The funding agency and research institution should earmark funds for the life-long retirement of these animals.