Animal supply choices affect the implementation of reduction and refinement in an experimental protocol. The use of high quality animals (i.e. genetically defined and free from pathogenic organisms and environmentally induced stress) can help reduce animal use without compromising the scientific objective of a study. In addition, an animal's experiences help determine social behaviour, and will impact the animal's future welfare under the housing conditions in a breeding facility.
Husbandry and welfare standards in place at the supplier should be at least as good as those at the institution in which the animals will be used. User institutions should establish communication with their breeding/supplying establishment in order to:
Some information that is specific for certain types of suppliers is provided here:
Commercial businesses that specialize in breeding animals for use in science are a common supplier. To ensure that commercial suppliers operate at high standards of welfare, visiting and auditing these establishments and asking for improvements may be necessary. Participation in the CCAC Program or in other accreditation programs may also provide assurance of high standards of welfare.
Preconditioned animals should be purchased whenever possible (the aim of a conditioning program is to ensure that the animals are suitable to begin the research, teaching or testing).
In-house animal breeding colonies should only be established when absolutely necessary. They should have high standards of animal care and be carefully managed to anticipate need, consistent with the principle of reduction.
There are many opportunities to implement reduction and refinement when procuring agricultural animals for research. When obtaining animals from suppliers whose primary role is not to provide animals for scientific use, an assessment of the health status of the herd or flock should be undertaken. Once procured, animals should be quarantined to minimize the spread of diseases to other animals in the facility.
There are several possibilities for implementing refinements when procuring cattle. Where possible, polled cattle should be used or, if not possible, cattle that have been dehorned using appropriate pain control methods. Horned cattle should not be purchased. Branded cattle should not be purchased and alternative means of identifying cattle should be used. Purchase of pre-conditioned cattle (weaned, castrated, vaccinated at least 30 days prior to sale, and having prior feed bunk experience) is recommended to decrease animal distress and ensure efficacy of vaccinations.
There are also ways to implement refinement when procuring poultry. Information on the conditions in which they have been hatched and reared can be used to minimize distress caused by removal to a different environment. For short-term studies where contact with humans is limited and/or the variables under investigation are less affected by animal distress from handling and related procedures, it may be appropriate to buy or catch adult birds. For long-term projects that involve close contact between birds and humans, it may be preferable to rear birds from hatch and imprint them on an object or animal attendant to decrease the birds' psychological distress and fear of humans.
Non purpose-bred dogs and cats are animals obtained from pounds and animal shelters; loaned or donated to institutions to train veterinary personnel; and obtained as surplus to other activities (such as racing or sled pulling).
Institutions must only obtain non purpose-bred dogs and cats where there is a well-defined arrangement with the management of the organization supplying them.
Some prior uses of these animals may mean that they are not well socialized. In this case, they should only be used in procedures that do not involve significant handling of the conscious animal; the duration of stay in the facility before use should be minimized and pre-determined by the local animal care committee; and these animals should only be used for terminal procedures.
There are scientific and welfare reasons for using purpose-bred animals that have been bred and prepared for use in science. Unless dictated by an approved protocol, it is almost always preferable to obtain standard laboratory species from an established breeder or supplier. Non purpose-bred animals have unknown genotypes, behavioural experiences and disease profiles. The pathophysiological changes that may be associated with parasitism, chronic infections and poor nutritional status frequently encountered in an unconditioned animal, constitute an uncontrolled experimental variable. In contrast, using purpose-bred animals with a well-defined health status may help to reduce the number of animals to a minimum. Purpose-bred animals should always be used for regulatory testing.
Purpose-bred animals also experience fewer negative welfare states. This is because they are accustomed from birth to life in a laboratory environment, and have likely always received veterinary and nutritional care and socialization with humans. In addition, they are often habituated or trained (conditioned) to experimental procedures (e.g., blood sampling).
In contrast, non purpose-bred animals are not familiar with these procedures and may experience greater amounts of psychological distress (e.g., fear and anxiety).
Investigators collecting wild animals should observe and pass on to students and employees a strict ethic of habitat conservation and respectful treatment of all animals. Investigators should select the method that has the least impact on the animals and on the local ecosystem, and is the safest for all concerned. Before initiating field projects involving capture, investigators should:
This section was adapted from material on the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) website and CCAC guidance documents.
For more information on animal supply, the following resources may be useful.