Animal testing on dogs is on the rise in the UK with a 16 per cent rise in the number of experiments done on canines in 2018 – taking the figure to almost 5,000.
Animal testing as a whole has decreased by seven per cent last year and 2018 represents the lowest level of live animal tests since 2007.
But there was a total of 3.52 million procedures still involving living animals.
A total of 4,481 experiments were done on dogs, with beagles the most popular breed, used in 4,314 procedures.
A staggering majority (93 per cent) of all experiments were conducted on mice, fish and rats.
The majority (71 per cent) of experimental procedures that used dogs were for regulatory procedures designed to test the safety of products and devices for human medicine, dentistry and veterinary medicine.
Scroll down for video
A total of 4,481 experiments were done on dogs – an increase of 634 on 2017 – with beagles the most popular breed, used in 4,314 procedures. A staggering majority (93 per cent) of all experiments were conducted on mice, fish and rats (stock)
Cats, dogs, horses and primates are all classified as specially protected species and account for 1 per cent (18,000) of experimental procedures.
The number of experiments with cats decreased by 20 per cent, and the number on primates increased by 8 per cent.
Around half (1.8 million) of all procedures were experimental, while the other 1.72 million were for the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals, data from the Home Office revealed.
The report was a mixed bag from the point of increases and decreases with the use of rats in experimental procedures dropping by 27 per cent but the number of experimental procedures on birds increased from 130,000 to 147,000.
The data represents the number of procedures conducted on animals, not the number of animals that were involved as some animals were ‘reused’.
More than half (56 per cent) of experimental procedures were carried out for basic research – most commonly focusing on the immune system, the nervous system and human cancer.
Procedures for creating and breeding decreased by 10 per cent, while experimental procedures fell by 4 per cent.
Cats, dogs, horses and primates are all classified as specially protected species and account for 1 per cent (18,000) of experimental procedures. The number of experiments with cats decreased by 20 per cent, and the number on primates increased by 8 per cent (stock)
WHO DOES THE ANIMAL TESTING?
All projects and establishments seeking to conduct regulated procedures on living animals must be licensed.
A total of 157 establishment licenses and 3,136 project licenses were held in the UK.
Of the 3.52 million conducted in the year, 51 per cent were conducted by universities or medical schools.
22 per cent came from commercial organisations and 17 per cent non-profits.
Understanding Animal Research, which promotes openness about animal research, released data showing 10 organisations account for nearly half of animal research in Britain.
They carried out 1.69 million procedures, 48% of the 3.52 million procedures in Britain in 2018.
More than 99% of these were carried out on rodents or fish.
The 10 organisations are the Medical Research Council, the Francis Crick Institute, the University of Oxford, the University of Edinburgh, University College London, the University of Cambridge, the University of Glasgow, King’s College London, the University of Manchester and Imperial College London.
Since 2014, the Home Office, which is responsible for regulating animal experiments, has classified testing according to the amount of suffering it causes.
They fall into one of five severity categories: sub-threshold, non-recovery, mild, moderate and severe.
Last year’s statistics show 38.9 per cent were assessed as mild, 14.7 per cent as moderate and 3.6 per cent as severe.
More than two-fifths (40.2 per cent) were considered sub-threshold – discomfort measured as less than a needle prick.
Dr Lindsay Marshall. senior scientist at Humane Society International, said: ‘Despite staggering advances in scientific technology, medical research in Britain remains irrationally wedded to broken animal models.
‘If our government is truly committed to advancing medical progress for its citizens, and to reducing the use of animals in laboratories, significant funding must be redirected from animals to human-mimetic approaches, rather than the paltry 3 per cent of the UK annual research spend that non-animal methods receive at present.’
Frances Rawle, director of policy, ethics and governance at the Medical Research Council, counters by saying animal testing is still ‘essential’ to progressive research.
WHAT ARE GENETICALLY ALTERED EXPERIMENTS?
The formal definition of these experiments, according to the Home office report, is: ‘The breeding of animals whose genes have mutated or have been modified.’
In 2018, almost all (over 99 per cent) of the 1.72 million procedures for the creation and breeding of genetically altered animals involved mice, fish and rats.
Mice, again, constitute the majority of experiments (87 per cent) while fish (13 per cent), and rats (0.4 per cent) paled in comparison.
Other species used for creation and breeding of GA animals include: amphibians, ungulates (including pigs), and birds – but together they accounted for less than 0.3 per cent of these procedures.
It was also found that 15 per cent of the animals in this programme received a ‘harmful phenotype’.
She said: ‘The use of animals in medical research remains essential for us to develop new and better treatments and to understand the biology of disease.
‘If researchers are applying for funding for studies involving animals, they must give clear scientific reasons for using them and explain why there are no realistic alternatives.
‘The MRC is committed to ensuring that these programmes are carried out to the highest possible levels of animal welfare and to replacing, refining and reducing the use of animals in research.’
‘These staggering figures paint a grim picture of an outdated system, in which experimenters repeatedly drug, poison, surgically mutilate, and ultimately kill certain animals because they’ve always done things this way,’ commented PETA Science Policy Adviser Dr Julia Baines.
‘Species such as mice, rats, and fish are afforded less legal protection than the meagre ones afforded cats, dogs, horses, and primates – despite having the same capacity to suffer – so experiments in which they’re used receive even less oversight.
‘The UK government has a moral obligation to protect animals and advance human health by switching from animal experiments to today’s technology such as organs-on-chips.’
Professor Julian Downward, associate research director at the Francis Crick Institute, said: ‘As the country’s largest biomedical research institute, we have a particular responsibility to be open about our use of animals in research.
‘While we use alternatives wherever possible, living animals are incredibly complex and there are many processes we simply can’t simulate.’
In 2014 the way the animal procedures are measured changed to look at procedures that had concluded, and not those that had been started.
WHAT ARE THE LEVELS OF ANIMAL TESTING?
Scientific experiments done on live animals are classified by their severity.
There are five categories which each experiment fits in to.
When a procedure did not actually cause suffering above the threshold of regulation, i.e. was less than the level of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm that is caused by inserting a hypodermic needle according to good veterinary practice.
When the entire procedure was carried out under general anaesthesia without recovery.
The animal never woke up after going under the influence of the anaesthetic and died.
Any pain or suffering experienced by an animal that was, at worst, only slight or transitory and minor so that the animal returns to its normal state within a short period of time.
The procedure caused a significant and easily detectable disturbance to an animal’s normal state, but this was not life threatening.
Most surgical procedures carried out under general anaesthesia and with good post-operative analgesia (i.e. pain relief) would be classed as moderate.
The procedure caused a major departure from the animal’s usual state of health and wellbeing.
This would usually include long-term disease processes where assistance with normal activities such as feeding and drinking were required, or where significant deficits in behaviours/activities persist.
It includes animals found dead unless an informed decision can be made that the animal did not suffer severely prior to death.