ANSWERS ABOUT PETS AND RESEARCH

1. Why promote the role of research in veterinary medicine?

Research is the foundation of all medical science, and animals are the foundation of this research. Medical progress, for human and animal health, requires research with animals because there is no complete replacement for a living system on which to conduct basic research. Animal studies provide invaluable and irreplaceable insights into human systems and for the study of animal health – there is no better model than the animal. When Americans learn that biomedical research involving animals improves animal health as well as human health, public understanding, and support for this vital research increases.

Practically every present-day protocol for the prevention, control, and cure of disease, and relief of pain is based on knowledge attained through research that involved lab animals. The best hope for developing new preventions, therapies, and cures for diseases including cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s is found in the promise of medical research that includes animal studies. Research with animals is also a legal obligation. Both the Nuremberg Code and the Helsinki Declaration of Helsinki outline provisions for research protocols to be conducted with animals, before humans.

2. How can a person who deeply cares for animals still support the research that includes animals?
The two concepts are not mutually exclusive – but it is essential to distinguish between “animal rights” and animal welfare. The research community supports animal welfare and works to guarantee the health and well-being of all animals. Animal rights activists seek to end all research involving animals – either because they choose to reject its well-established validity and usefulness, or because they believe that the life of a rat is equal in importance to the life of a child. And they have gone to shocking lengths to subvert medical and scientific progress. Laboratories have been broken into, animals stolen and years of valuable data destroyed. Though many animal rights organizations refuse to condemn such criminal behavior, Americans should not tolerate these illegal campaigns of intimidation and threats against medical research and discovery.
3. What assurances exist that stolen or lost pets are not used in research?
While some research requires that dogs and cats are used, the vast majority of laboratory animals are rodents specifically bred for research. Nearly half of the dogs and cats needed for research are also bred for that purpose. State laws and local policies prevent many animal pounds and shelters from providing dogs and cats to research facilities, animal dealers are the primary source for the other half of the animals scientists require. These dealers must be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and must adhere to Animal Welfare Act standards of care. Both dealers and research facilities can obtain dogs and cats only from specified sources and must comply with detailed record-keeping and waiting-period requirements. In addition, USDA conducts unannounced inspections of dealers and research facilities for compliance to help ensure research animals are not missing pets.
4. Why can’t alternatives such as computer models and cell cultures replace animal research?

Computer models and cell cultures, as well as other adjunct research methods, are excellent avenues for reducing the number of animals used. These methods are used to screen and determine the toxic potential of a substance in the early stages of an investigation, thereby reducing the total number of research animals needed. The final test, however, has to be done in a whole, living system. Even the most sophisticated technology cannot mimic the complicated interactions among cells, tissues, and organs that occur in humans and animals. Scientists must understand these interactions before introducing a new treatment or substance into humans.

In addition, there are very strong economic incentives to replace animals with computers or other adjunct methods. Research animals are very expensive to acquire and care for and are only used because no alternatives currently exist. For the near future, however, these adjunct technologies will be used in conjunction with, not instead of, laboratory animals.

5. How can research results derived from animal testing be extrapolated to humans?

There are striking similarities between the physiological systems of humans and various species of animals. For example, much of what we know about the immune system has come from studies with mice, and much of what we know about the cardiovascular system has come from studies with dogs.

Research results from animals also provide the information necessary to design human trials that must be completed for legal approval of new devices, drugs or procedures. It is important to be able to gauge how a new drug or procedure will affect a whole biological system before using it on humans. This is critical for scientific as well as ethical reasons. Laboratory animals are an integral part of the research process. In fact, virtually every major medical advance of the last century is due, in part, to research with animals.

6. Why are increasing numbers of animals used in research?
The number of animals used in research has actually decreased in the past 20-25 years. Best estimates for the reduction in the overall use of animals in research range from 20% – 50%. This reduction is more consistent and striking when comparing species. 95% of animals used in research are rats and mice, 1/2% are monkeys, and only 4% are made up of other species (dogs, cats, fish, etc.) Due to a variety of factors, including the increase in nonanimal adjunct testing and the refinement of laboratory animal medicine, there are fewer animals used for many research projects.

 

FUN FACTS: TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE

Are you ready to find out how much you know about medical research, pet ownership, and animal studies? You can check your answer beneath each question on this page to see if you were correct. Good luck!

1. In the United States (population: approximately 323 million), most households have at least one pet. How many cats and dogs do you think this adds up to?
How many cats and dogs (total) live in American households?
Answer: 1.64 billion; roughly 78 million dogs, and 85.8 million cats

 

2. The national investment in biomedical research, including federally-funded studies with animals, is expensive. But in the words of Mary Lasker, “If you think research is expensive, try disease.” What percentage of American healthcare costs do you think are incurred by scientific and medical research?

What percentage of American healthcare costs is allocated to scientific and medical research?
Answer: Approximately 4.5% of healthcare costs in the United States, which total more than $3.2 trillion, is reserved for scientific and medical research. American investment in research used to far exceed that expended by other countries, but has declined from 57 percent of the global share a decade ago to about 44 percent in 2015 (the most recent year in which statistics were compiled).