Do animals suffer in experiments?
Animal research and testing involves many different types of procedure, which cause varying levels of suffering. Procedures can range from looking at behaviour and taking blood samples, to carrying out surgery, or creating animal 'models' of arthritis, liver disease or depression. Conditions like arthritis can cause pain or distress in humans and will also cause animal suffering.
Experimental procedures in the UK are classified as causing 'mild', 'moderate' or 'severe' suffering. Although many procedures may be mild, large numbers of animals undergo procedures in the moderate category, and some animals suffer severely.
So there is no doubt that animals can experience pain and distress as a result of being used in experiments - but there are many other causes of additional suffering that must be acknowledged and dealt with. One especially important factor is animal housing and care, which can cause problems if the animals' needs are not properly catered for – such as suitable companions, somewhere to hide, and an environment that stimulates natural behaviours.
If animals are transported between establishments, this can be very stressful; as can being handled, mixed with unfamiliar animals or (in the case of many rodents) even being transferred to a clean cage.
What we do
The RSPCA is dedicated to ensuring that the suffering experienced by research animals, due to both experiments and life in the laboratory, is properly recognised and effectively reduced for as long as animal use continues.
There are many opportunities for reducing any fear, discomfort, pain or distress caused by experimental procedures or other aspects of the animals' lives. Much of our work is dedicated to:
- developing and promoting better ways of identifying and assessing suffering, so that it can be recognised and treated earlier
- changing the way procedures are carried out so that they cause less suffering
- influencing laws and guidelines, in the UK and worldwide, so that they include clear requirements to effectively recognise, assess, reduce and report suffering
- improving standards of laboratory animal housing and care
Better housing and care
Improving housing and care can make an immediate, positive difference to the quality of life of laboratory animals and also helps reduce any suffering associated with procedures. There is another, less obvious benefit - if animals can show a wide range of behaviours, they are more likely to be viewed as individuals, rather than as dispensable 'research tools'. This encourages greater efforts to replace animals with humane alternatives.
Many laws that control animal use, including those in the UK and European Union, have guidelines on how animals should be housed. However, laws only set out the basic, minimum requirements, not ‘best practice’. We believe that legal standards and guidelines can - and should - be improved on, for both ethical and animal welfare reasons, and we are involved in many activities that aim to achieve this.
Find out more about our work to achieve fuller implementation of the 3Rs.
Related internet links
• NC3Rs - National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research
• Altweb - Alternatives to Animal Testing Website
• UFAW - Universities Federation for Animal Welfare
• Ratlife - The Laboratory Rat: A Natural History