How Common is Lab Testing on Dogs?

How Common is Lab Testing on Dogs?

Federal authorities are moving 4,000 beagles from a breeding and research facility in Virginia after it was discovered that many of them were neglected or in ill health, The New York Times reports.

The news, which broke last week, piqued the interest of dog lovers across the country, some of whom volunteered to adopt one or more of the rescued animals.

It also prompts questions about how often dogs are used in animal testing, and what institutional failures led to 4,000 beagles living in such poor conditions.

Clinical research using dogs is much more common than you’d think, says John Basl, an associate professor of philosophy at Northeastern, though laws are in place to help prevent unnecessary suffering. But even when these regulations are followed, there remains a moral dilemma over whether animals should be used in this way, and whether dogs should be treated differently.

John Basl, Assistant Professor of Philosophy poses for a portrait at Northeastern University. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The US Department of Agriculture report on the Envigo breeding and research facility in Cumberland, Virginia revealed appalling mistreatment and blatant disregard for animal welfare. Among their findings, officials reported that injured beagles were being euthanized instead of treated, and many were neglected and in ill health, The New York Times reports. Now, the 4,000 beagles are up for adoption.

They form just a fraction of the number of dogs that are bred and used for research purposes in the United States. Dogs are “a controversial but widely used animal for animal experimentation,” Basl says. According to the US Department of Agriculture, 58,511 dogs were used in USDA-registered research in 2019, and 16,013 of those dogs likely experienced pain as part of the research.

Among the dogs that are used for animal testing, beagles are preferred because they are small and docile. In addition, Basl says, if previous research has been done on beagles, a new, similar study will likely use them as well. “One reason to choose a particular species is because we have a history of data on that species and so we can ensure new data is commensurate with old data,” he says.

Still, the number of beagles used in animal research pales in comparison to the number of rodents in labs. Mice and rats are by far the most commonly used lab animal—one million studies found that over 100 mice and rats are being used in clinical testing, and that they include over 99% of lab animals—but according to Basl, all clinical trials must be done on more than one animal, and one of the animals cannot be a rodent. Bunnies are not rodents, so they are used for this purpose, as are dogs, cats and non-human primates.

For these animals to come from a breeding facility like the one in Virginia is not a surprise, Basl says. Sometimes, institutions that perform animal testing will breed their own animals. “But oftentimes, that work is outsourced,” he says.

Laws regulating treatment of these animals have been in place for over half a century. Printed 1965, US Rep. Joseph Resnick introduced the Laboratory Animal Welfare bill, a precursor to the Animal Welfare Act (Resnick’s bill was in response to reports that family dogs were being stolen and used for animal testing). In 1966, the Animal Welfare Act passed, becoming “the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, teaching, testing, exhibition, transport, and by dealers,” according to the USDA, one of the agencies charged with enforcing the law.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.