Animal use in the context of training

Legally speaking, animal testing may be used to help people acquire, maintain or improve professional skills if no animal-free alternative is available. The website of the skills lab within the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine lists a number of animal-free methods of this kind.

Some animals can be used in the context of veterinary training. After all, learning to handle animals requires some practice. For example, students learn a number of basic procedures, with an emphasis not only on executing each one correctly, but also on estimating the degree of stress an animal is displaying, and how to respond appropriately to this.

For example, competent handling is necessary in order to treat a nervous horse. Students should be able to properly ‘read’ the subtle signs of calm, anxiety and stress. In addition, in the context of their education, it is essential for some students to learn to palp. This means they learn through the sense of touch to determine the position and structure of bones and superficial blood vessels, among other things. After making as much use as possible of animal models, live animals are used for this purpose. These non-invasive handlings are also included in the annual figures for animal testing.

Some, more invasive actions can be practiced on, for example, mice that were killed because they cannot be used for tests (for example, if they are of an unusable phenotype). Shortly after the mice are killed, students of veterinary medicine practice giving injections or collecting blood. In this way, students can acquire the necessary expertise without carrying out these exercises on live animals, or animals that were specially bred or purchased.

The Ethics Committees occasionally receive requests to practice human cardiac surgery or robotic surgery on laboratory animals. Here it is a matter of terminal procedures on pigs, conducted under general anaesthetic after which the animal will not wake up. This type of exercise allows surgeons to develop their skills and expertise.