Pain Management for Animals Used in Science: Views of Scientists and Veterinarians in Canada
This study looks at the administration of anaesthetics for laboratory animals, and the way that scientists and lab vets perceive its use and effectiveness. Using an in-depth approach where subjects were interviewed for 1-2hrs at a time, they explore various issues surrounding pain management, looking at when, how, and why analgesics are administered, and how lab staff make those decisions. Though the paper takes animal use as a given (the use of animals in experiments is not questioned), the paper offers important insight into how lab scientists and vets carry out their work.
“The possibility that animals may experience pain when used in science, presents an ethical dilemma for both scientists and laboratory animal veterinarians,” states this paper about pain management in laboratories. It is a dilemma for scientists and vets, but the decision impacts the laboratory animals themselves, who are subjected to the tests and have to endure the pain. In an effort to better understand the context of how, why, and when analgesics are administered to lab animals, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with a number of lab scientists and vets. Their goal was “to explore and describe the challenges and opportunities for pain management for animals used in science and, through this, contribute to discussions of how pain can be minimized.” Citing the “Three Rs” approach to animal experimentation (Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement), the researchers noted that “in some types of animal-based research, pain alleviation measures may be in conflict with scientific objectives.” Therefore, they say, “concerns regarding the adequacy of pain management continue to be expressed in the scientific literature.”
Through long form, open-ended interviews, the researchers revealed some interesting tendencies within laboratories. One fundamental and important aspect that the researchers found was that “recognizing when, and to what degree, animals are in pain continues to present challenges, in part because there does not seem to be consensus on the signs of pain. A number of inconsistencies in pain management practices across institutions, laboratories and species that have the potential to impact research results and animal welfare were described by participants.” What this means is that scientists and vets are applying pain management in an uneven way, based on their subjective perception of the animals’ pain. Additionally, the respondents said that when it came to pain management techniques, “typically this type of information is not included in the methods sections of papers that arise from the work, as has been reported in studies that aimed to quantify the prevalence of analgesic administration.” In other words, scientists are not sharing information about pain management as part of the overall reporting of their research. “Participants were in general agreement that there is a lack of scientifically proven information on how to manage animal pain and an absence of resources available to address it,” say the authors. “This suggests that clarification of the interactions between scientific objectives and pain management is needed, as well as a stronger evidence base for pain management approaches, as has also been proposed by other authors.”
This research focused on Canada, and therefore the discussion is set against the context of Canadian laws and regulations regarding laboratory animals. However, many of the ideas put forward in the interviews and within the paper as a whole are more widely applicable. Since animal experimentation is such a hidden practice, animal advocates can always learn more by listening to first hand accounts like this. Though the authors caution that the small sampling of scientists and vets means that their research cannot be seen as truly representative of the larger industry, the findings do offer some very interesting starting points for further discussion and inquiry.
To explore the challenges and opportunities for pain management for animals used in research an interview study with 9 veterinarians, 3 veterinarian-scientists and 9 scientists, all engaged in animal-based studies in Canada, was carried out. Our broader aim was to contribute to further discussion of how pain can be minimized for animals used in science. Diverse views were identified regarding the ease of recognizing when animals are in pain and whether animals hide pain. Evidence of inconsistencies in pain management across laboratories, institutions and species were also identified. Clarification of the interactions between scientific objectives and pain management are needed, as well as a stronger evidence base for pain management approaches. Detailed examination of pain management for individual invasive animal models may be useful, and may support the development of model-specific pain management protocols.