Researchers use animal testing in preclinical research in order to determine the overall safety and effectiveness of many new drugs, treatments, or other products. 

Testing on animals can provide important information about how a drug or treatment will behave in humans, including any potential side effects or toxicities. This information helps researchers to refine and improve the therapy before it is tested in humans. Additionally, it is often unethical or not feasible to perform certain types of tests on humans, making animal testing a necessary step in the research process. Although animal testing may sound cruel; it is done to prevent as much human suffering as possible. Without animal testing, there would be more risk to humans.

In order to determine the overall impact of a drug, treatment, or product researchers carefully choose which animal subject they will use.  Furthermore, medical devices or drug testing can take years to complete. It’s truly essential to make the right animal testing choice.  Therefore, the animal test subject has to meet several unique requirements specific to each test.


Anytime preclinical research involves the testing of new drugs or products, research teams consider a number of different animal subjects. It’s important for researchers to determine which animal models will work best for each particular treatment or product. If they make the wrong choice testing results may not be correct. Then testing may have to start all over again.  In the worst case, new products or drugs could hit the market and harm the humans who use them.

The decision of which animal to use in a new preclinical research test is complex and includes different factors. Some examples include the type of drug being tested, the size of the animal, the lifespan of the animal, and the characteristics of the animal.

For example, if the study is focused on understanding the effects of a drug on the cardiovascular system, a species with a similar cardiovascular system to humans, such as a dog or a pig, might be selected. If the study is focused on the effects of a drug on the nervous system, a species with a well-developed nervous system, such as a rodent or a primate, might be selected.

Researchers often use small animals such as guinea pigs or mice for research because they are easy to breed and maintain, and they have a relatively short lifespan, which allows researchers to study multiple generations of animals in a relatively short period of time. However, a small animal like a mouse would be too small to test some things, like a new pacemaker (device to keep your heart beating correctly). A pacemaker device must attach to the animal, so smaller animal models like mice simply won’t work. A larger animal test subject is a better fit. Thus, finding the appropriate animal model for upcoming preclinical research is essential for the overall success of a research study.

Common Animal Test Subjects

The majority of animals used are mice and rats. 

Zebrafish are an animal used that might surprise you. However, their transparency allows researchers to observe developmental
processes in real-time. They have been used to study cancer, heart disease, and genetic disorders.

Dogs, cats, and primates have many characteristics that make them similar to
humans. However, researchers choose these animal models for less than 1% of preclinical research studies.

Is animal testing ethical?

It is also important to consider ethical and legal considerations, such as the availability of alternative models and the regulations in
place to protect the welfare of animals used in research. In general, researchers aim to minimize the use of animals and to use the
most appropriate species for each study, in order to reduce harm to animals and to increase the relevance of the results to humans.

Researchers should provide animals with appropriate housing, nutrition, and medical care, and should take steps to minimize pain, distress, and suffering. Researchers should also have their studies reviewed by independent ethics committees to ensure that their methods are scientifically sound and ethically defensible.

By following these and other best practices, researchers can help to ensure that their work is both scientifically rigorous and ethically responsible, and that they are contributing to the advancement of science while minimizing harm to animals.

Regulating animal testing

In the United States, animal testing is regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The AWA establishes standards for the care and treatment of animals used in research, testing, and teaching, and requires that covered facilities, such as research institutions and companies, provide appropriate housing, nutrition, and veterinary care for the animals in their care.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is responsible for enforcing the AWA and inspecting facilities that use animals to ensure compliance with the regulations. In addition to the AWA, other federal laws, such as the Public Health Service Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals and the Health Research Extension Act, also regulate certain aspects of animal testing.

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