Role of veterinarians in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes
Ratification Date: 20 Jul 2023
There are two main roles for veterinarians in the oversight of use of animals for scientific purposes:
- As a member of an animal ethics committee (AEC)
- As an institutional or facility veterinarian
Veterinarians in either capacity must be registered with an Australian veterinary board.
All institutions using animals for research must employ facility veterinarians in sufficient numbers to adequately supervise animal interventions.
Veterinarians serving as facility veterinarians must be responsible for practical oversight of procedures on animals involving anaesthesia, surgery and other invasive or potentially painful techniques. This is to ensure competency of operators and adequacy of analgesia and other refinements to minimise distress. The facility veterinarian must also have oversight of preventative health, husbandry, diagnostic or treatment interventions, and euthanasia techniques.
Facility Animal Welfare Officers (AWOs) and Animal Care and Use Advisors (ACUAs) should also be veterinarians.
Animal ethics committees
Veterinarians serving on AECs will be required to act in a specific capacity according to the category of their membership. These categories and capacities are described in the 8th Edition of the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes (the Code).
There are three potential membership categories for veterinarians on AECs: A, B and C. (There is a category D that is for independent members only).
Category A: a person with qualifications in veterinary science that are recognised for registration as a veterinarian in Australia, and with experience relevant to the institution’s activities or the ability to acquire relevant knowledge.
Category B: a suitably qualified person with substantial and recent experience in the use of animals for scientific purposes relevant to the institution and the business of the AEC.
This must include possession of a higher degree in research or equivalent experience. If the business of the AEC relates to the use of animals for teaching only, a teacher with substantial and recent experience may be appointed.
Category C: a person with demonstrable commitment to, and established experience in, furthering the welfare of animals, who is not employed by or otherwise associated with the institution, and who is not currently involved in the care and use of animals for scientific purposes. Veterinarians with specific animal welfare interest and experience may meet the requirements of this category. While not representing an animal welfare organisation, the person should, where possible, be selected on the basis of active membership of, and endorsement by, such an organisation.
Institutional and facility veterinarians
The institutional or facility veterinarian is responsible for providing the practical “program of veterinary care” as specified in the Code.
In assessing proposals, all categories of veterinarians on AECs must consider the benefits to be derived from research versus the cost to the animals. They must also consider the “3R’s”: firstly, whether the researcher has explored possible replacements or alternatives to animal use; secondly, if animals must be used, how to reduce the number of animals used; and thirdly, how to refine the impacts on the animals of the experimentation (such as reducing the length of time animals will be under experimentation, use of analgesia, determining humane end-points, and considering the fate of the animals after completion of research).
The facility and Category A veterinarians must have knowledge of the welfare, husbandry and diseases for the species being kept. The veterinarians must provide advice for all stages of animal care including transport, housing, husbandry, breeding, scientific procedures, welfare assessment, biosecurity, and treatment of disease. Facilities where animals undergo scientific procedures must provide 24-hour emergency veterinary services.
The facility and Category A veterinarians must play an active role in advising animal ethics committees on the welfare impact of procedures, and refinements in procedures such as management of pain and distress. The facility veterinarian must also directly assess the competence of researchers and technicians to undertake invasive or potentially painful procedures on animals. This will include direct assessment and approval of anaesthetic and peri-operative analgesic protocols as well as surgical technique. They must carefully assess animal welfare risks and then implement monitoring plans to suit these risks.
Other relevant policies and position statements
- Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes. 8th edn. Australian Government NHMRC, 2013. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/ea28
- Guidelines for adequate veterinary care. American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, 2014. https://www.academia.edu/97714983/ACLAM_Guidelines_on_Adequate_Veterinary_Care
- Named Veterinary Surgeons. Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, 2014. https://www.rcvs.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/code-of-professional-conduct-for-veterinary-surgeons/supporting-guidance/named-veterinary-surgeons/
- Guidelines for the veterinary care of laboratory animals. Federation of European Laboratory Animal Science Associations, European Society of Laboratory Animal Veterinarians, and European College of Laboratory Animal Medicine, 2008. https://felasa.eu/working-groups/guidelines/id/23