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Opinion: Animal medical testing is also needed for animals, not just humans – Insurance for Pets

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Blood is taken from a dog. It is important for the health and welfare of animals that animal experiments can continue to be carried out on the own species, arjan Stegeman and Ynte Schukken.Image Hollandse Hoogte / Marlies Wessels

The discussion about the use of laboratory animals is always loaded. What is always forgotten in the laboratory animal discussion are the animal experiments that are done for animals themselves.

Recently, it has been argued in this paper by about a hundred researchers that animal research is essential for the development of vaccines for humans, for example the recently developed SARS-CoV-2 vaccines. The article makes it clear that it is important to nuance the ambition of the Netherlands to be a world leader in the transition to animal-free research. In response to this, Henk Smid and Jeroen Geurts argued that this argument with regard to the importance of animal testing is also relative, especially because many animal experiments are difficult to repeat and difficult to translate to humans.

But what are the consequences for animals? By banning all animal testing, we make it impossible to improve animal health and welfare. Domestic cats participating in a study into the effectiveness and safety of a new vaccine for cats are also laboratory animals, as are chickens in which behavioral studies are carried out to develop better free-range housing, or cows that are monitored on a farm to better understand their diseases.

Target and model animals

Laboratory animals should therefore be divided into two groups: target animals and model animals. Target animals are laboratory animals of the species that are benefiting from the research: we are conducting research on dogs to evaluate a vaccine for dogs and thereby prevent disease in dogs. Model animals are laboratory animals of one animal species that serve as a model for another animal species: research on mice and rats is being done to better understand biological and pathological processes in humans.

A quarter of all animal testing is done for applied research for animals. For example, new housing methods are being investigated that meet current climate and environmental requirements. In this study, the effect on the health and welfare of the animals is monitored over time.

Just as in humans, a lot of research is being done in animals to improve the prevention and treatment of diseases. In animals too, it is essential to determine in large studies whether a vaccine is sufficiently effective or to assess whether sick animals recover after administration of a new drug.

Medical ethical review

In humans, there is medical ethical assessment that determines what is allowed and what is not allowed in clinical studies, but there is no social pressure to reduce the number of people in such research, on the contrary. On the contrary, we assume that there will ultimately be a health benefit for humans. As with humans, similar studies in animals meet strict requirements. In animals, however, these studies are considered animal experiments and reported as such.

When diseases occur in our pets or farm animals, research is being conducted into the effect of this disease on the welfare of the animals and the long-term health effects of diseases. This so-called epidemiological research is also carried out in a similar way in humans. In animals this is also seen and reported as animal experiments.

The nutrition of animals, both domestic and farm animals, is important for the health and welfare of the animals and recently also an important topic of research to minimize the impact on the environment. Nutritional research often means that the individuals participating in the research are monitored with regard to relevant blood values. Nutritional research is conducted in both humans and animals. In animals this is again seen and reported as animal experiments.

Improve life

Let it be clear, where possible and necessary, it is wise to reduce or even eliminate animal testing. But it is also good to add the necessary nuance to the discussion about animal testing. Much research is being done in animals to improve or protect the lives of animals of the same species. Completely comparable to research that takes place in humans for the benefit of humans.

In animals, however, we call this animal testing, animal testing on target animals. It is important for the health and welfare of animals that this research is carried out on the own animal species. Laboratory animal research, or rather target animal research, is essential to have and keep healthy animals.

Arjan Stegeman is professor of farm animal health & epidemiology of infectious diseases, Utrecht University.

Ynte Hein Schukken is Professor of Management of Farm Animal Health, Wageningen University and Research and Professor of Farm Animal Health Programs, Utrecht University.

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