Animals in Laboratories

AWI works to foster the development and implementation of science-based housing and handling refinements that reduce pain and distress and provide opportunities for species-appropriate mental and physical stimulation and social interaction. We promote practices that replace animals with non-animal alternatives and minimize the number of animals used in research. We also endeavor to identify and address reports of animal abuse in laboratory settings and the supply chain.

According to US Department of Agriculture reports, each year some 800,000 warm-blooded animals are used in research in the United States, with another 100,000+ held in research facilities but not used for regulated activities. The annual numbers do not include rats of the genus Rattus, mice of the genus Mus, or birds, however. These animals are excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act and the number in use is not recorded. A recent calculation, however, estimates that the number of rats and mice used in research each year is 111.5 million—which would represent more than 99 percent of the total animals used.

AWI strongly believes that the Animal Welfare Act should be strictly enforced. Our relentless advocacy made the law’s enactment possible in 1966, and helped strengthen and broaden subsequent amendments. 

We also believe that protections under the law should be extended (at a bare minimum) to rats, mice, and birds and that all animals in research deserve to be treated with care and as humanely as possible.

Specifically, animals in research should be provided with comfortable housing with conspecifics, veterinary treatment that includes pain relief, and the opportunity to engage in species-typical behaviors—while sparing them needless suffering. Researchers doing work with any animal species should use the “3Rs” as their guiding principles: replacement (substitution with non-animal methods), reduction (methods of obtaining data using fewer animals), and refinement (methods that alleviate or minimize animal suffering and distress). 

AWI’s long-running online Laboratory Animal Refinement & Enrichment Forum (LAREF) facilitates meaningful discussion and exchange of ideas among members of the research animal care community concerning ways to improve the conditions under which animals in laboratories are housed and handled. AWI also provides funding to laboratory personnel to conduct research focused on improving the housing and handling of animals in research or to implement better practices. Finally, AWI has been at the forefront of efforts to provide nonhuman primates with social housing that addresses their behavioral needs to the greatest extent possible or to implement better practices. AWI is a strong proponent of teaching animals to cooperate during routine procedures rather than using stress-inducing removal from the home cage and forced restraint.

Click here to read AWI’s Position Statement on Research and Testing with Animals.