How is Animal-Based Science Conducted in Canada?

Before researchers and educators can officially begin any animal-based work, they must first submit a detailed description of their proposed work to their institutional animal care committee for thorough review and approval.

Members of these animal care committees must ensure that every reasonable safeguard is in place to minimize any potential pain and discomfort that there might be, and must act as a strong and visible advocate for the ethical care of the animals.

Together, these individuals, in collaboration with animal health professionals, work to ensure that the following steps are taken in order to meet the CCAC’s high standards of animal ethics and care.

Focusing on Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement

Petri dish with pipette

In CCAC-certified institutions, researchers and teachers must adhere to the Three Rs principle when planning any animal-based procedure or experiment. In 1959, scientists W.M.S. Russell and R.L. Burch first proposed the concept of the Three Rs in their book The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. The Three Rs is now a widely accepted cornerstone of animal-based science within Canada and around the world, and promotes the following three tenets:

  • Replace: Avoid or replace the use of animals wherever possible;
  • Reduce: Employ strategies that will result in fewer animals used and are consistent with sound experimental design; and
  • Refine: Modify husbandry or experimental procedures to minimize pain and distress.

Enriching the Environment

Two mice playing in a glass

Environmental enrichment is another key component of ethics and care as it contributes to the animal’s overall quality of life.

Animal care providers are responsible for creating an environment which allows the animal to perform as many of its natural behaviours as possible. This covers a wide range of features, from improvements to the physical environment, to changes in social opportunities.

In the image on the left, a glass or plastic cylinder provides variation in the environment for a mouse in a cage, and is often used by the mouse as a nesting spot or urination area.

Providing Extra Care During Complex Studies

Two technicians holding a pig

Animal care committees inform the scientists, veterinarians, and animal care staff on the type of care a group of animals should receive.

Staff place extra emphasis on monitoring animals used in protocols with potentially higher levels of pain or distress, ensuring that these animals receive additional and appropriate care to mitigate (as much as possible) any pain they might experience.

Examples of enhanced and appropriate care could include analgesia, increased bedding, warmth, or softer food.