Ask Cat: Objecting to Animal Testing

If you have a question for Cat, a pseudonym for our panel of vegan experts, please email Cat

When I say I’m against animal testing, I sometimes get some very vehement responses from people saying if abolishing animal testing means those tests are going to be carried out on people, then they’re for keeping the animal testing. Of course this is ‘species-ist’, but try telling that to people with hiv and cancer. They don’t want to hear that it’s ‘species-ist’, because of course that confirms in their minds, no matter how much I point out to the contrary, that all us vegans and ar folks care more about ‘animals’ than people (some actually do, but not all, not even most, from my experience). I don’t have a ready comeback except to say that much of the testing is funding driven, and that pcrm has viable computer, test tube and other non-barbaric models that are just as useful. I’m wondering if others have come across this ‘reason’.

Being a nurse, and working in the hiv/aids field, I come across this a fair amount when I bring up my objections to animal testing. Even one of our consulting doctors, who used to be a great admirer of Henry Spira, has said at a staff meeting that some animal testing is still necessary. Just wondering.

-J., San Francisco

We’re fortunate to have Dr. Alka Chandna answer this question. Alka, formerly a Bay Area activist, is now a senior researcher with PETA, focusing on animal experimentation issues. She worked on PETA’s campaign against primate experiments at Columbia University and wrote the complaint against contract testing lab, Covance.

Unfortunately, there are no “snappy” comebacks to questions about animal experimentation. In speaking with friends, family members, and others about animal experimentation, we are confronted with a number of challenges – addressing the extreme suffering of the animals involved; pointing out the failure of laws to protect animals in labs; and addressing the failure of animal experiments to yield data that’s meaningful to the human condition. Consideration of each one of these points could fill volumes of books, but I’ve tried to distill some of the larger points below. Good luck!

(1) We must paint a picture for the people we’re speaking with, letting them know that experimenting on animals is not a benign proposition. Every year, over 115 million animals – monkeys, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, birds, rats, mice, and other animals – are killed in our nation’s labs. Animals in laboratories endure lives of deprivation, isolation, stress, trauma, and depression even before they are enrolled in any sort of protocol. This fact is especially apparent when one considers the specialized needs of each species. In nature, many primates, including rhesus macaques and baboons, stay for many years or for life with their families and troops. They spend hours together every day, grooming each other, foraging, playing, and making nests for sleeping each night. But in laboratories, primates are often caged alone. Rats and mice are denied a place to dig and hide. Dogs and cats are deprived of exercise, affection, and the homes that they long for with families to care for them. Rabbits have no room to leap. Pigs cannot root in the ground or build their nests. Even when the cages are clean–and this is not always the case–the animals are not allowed to engage in any normal behavior. Laboratories typically do not provide social interactions or family groups, companions, grooming possibilities, nests, or surfaces softer than metal. In many laboratories, animals are handled roughly—even for routine monitoring procedures that fall outside the realm of an experimental protocol—and this only heightens the animals’ fear and stress.

Video footage from inside laboratories shows that many animals cower in fear every time someone walks by their cages. A 2004 article in Nature magazine indicated that mice housed in standard laboratory cages suffer from “impaired brain development, abnormal repetitive behaviours (stereotypies) and an anxious behavioural profile.” This appalling level of suffering results simply from standard housing conditions—before the animal undergoes any sort of procedure. A November 2004 article in Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science examines 80 papers to document the potential stress associated with three routine laboratory procedures commonly performed on animals. The authors conclude, “Routine handling, venipuncture, and orogastric gavage lead to elevations of heart rate, blood pressure, and glucocorticoid concentrations that persist for 30 to 60 [minutes] following the event, suggesting that despite their routine use in laboratory studies, these procedures are acutely stressful for animals.”

In laboratories, animals are force-fed poisons, injected with harmful substances, subjected to brain damage, heart attacks, stroke or cancer, they are addicted to a myriad of narcotics,they have electrodes implanted into their brains, their eyes are sewn shut, their spines are crushed; and eventually, they are killed.

I would strongly recommend showing people what goes on inside laboratories. We have a number of videos on our websites – and – that you can watch online or download (and burn onto a CD) for free. “Test of a Civilization” is a 5-minute overview of animal experimentation issues, narrated by James Cromwell. For your friends with a shorter attention span, you might show them our video “Testing … 1,2,3” which offers a fast-paced presentation of the issues in under 3 minutes and 15 seconds. People who think laws prohibit the use of animals in cruel, pointless, or repetitive experiments should certainly check out PETA’s investigation footage inside the laboratories of Columbia University at And, people who think that lab workers treat animals with the utmost respect should absolutely check out PETA’s investigation footage inside the laboratories of Covance (one of the world’s largest contract testing laboratories – testing drugs, cosmetics, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and so on). A picture is worth a thousand words, and video footage can communicate the suffering that animals endure on secure floors and behind locked doors in universities, hospitals, and commercial facilities.

(2) There is only one federal law – the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) – that governs the treatment of animals in labs. While the AWA is primarily focused on housekeeping – ensuring that the cages are a certain size, that the labs are kept at a certain temperature, it does not prohibit any experiment no matter how redundant, pointless, or cruel. An audit report published by the Office of the Inspector General in September 2005 found that the USDA is failing to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, so animals in our nation’s labs are not receiving even the minimal protections afforded by law (veterinary care for sick or injured animals; provision of pain relief through invasive surgeries; humane euthanasia at the end of an experiment).

(3) Many people mistakenly think animal testing is necessary for medical progress. The truth is, testing on animals has actually killed people. Animals of different species exhibit differences in the ways their bodies absorb, metabolize, and eliminate substances. Penicillin kills guinea pigs despite being inactive in rabbits; aspirin kills cats and causes birth defects in rats, mice, guinea pigs, dogs, and monkeys; and morphine, a depressant in humans, stimulates goats, cats, and horses. Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, remarked, “How fortunate we didn’t have these animal tests in the 1940s, for penicillin would probably have never been granted a license, and probably the whole field of antibiotics might never have been realized.” Drugs like Thalidomide, Zomax, DES, Vioxx, Zomax, and Accutane were thoroughly tested on animals and judged safe, but caused devastating birth defects or even killed the patients they were supposed to treat. In August 2004, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) noted that only 8 percent of all drugs that pass animal tests make it to the human market. This means that of all drugs that are found to be safe and effective in animals, a whopping 92 percent are found to be either unsafe or ineffective in humans.

Taking a healthy being from a completely different species, artificially inducing a condition, keeping him or her in an unnatural and stressed condition, and trying to apply the “results” to naturally occurring diseases in human beings is dubious at best. Animals in laboratories typically display behaviors indicating extreme psychological distress, and experimenters acknowledge that the use of these stressed-out animals jeopardizes the validity of the data produced. Even humans living in cages in labs would not be suitable models for human disease processes occurring in the real world.

Furthermore, physiological reactions to drugs vary enormously from species to species. Studies have found that chemicals that cause cancer in rats only caused cancer in mice 46 percent of the time—that’s about the same as flipping a coin. If extrapolating from rats to mice is so problematic, how can we extrapolate results from mice, rats, guinea pigs, rabbits, cats, dogs, monkeys, and other animals to humans?

Cancer: Richard Klausner, former head of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), has observed, “The history of cancer research has been a history of curing cancer in the mouse. We have cured mice of cancer for decades and it simply didn’t work in humans.” The NCI now uses human cancer cells, taken by biopsy during surgery, to perform first-stage testing for new anti-cancer drugs, sparing the 1 million mice the agency previously used annually and giving us all a much better shot at combating cancer.

Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, cancer is largely preventable, yet most cancer-focused health organizations spend a pittance on prevention programs, such as public education. The NCI, for example, spends less than one-quarter of 1 percent of its budget on prevention. Epidemiological and clinical studies have determined that most cancers are caused by smoking and by eating high-fat foods, foods high in animal protein, and foods containing artificial colors and other harmful additives. We can beat cancer by attending to this human-derived, human-relevant data and implementing creative methods to encourage healthier lifestyle choices.

Alternatives to Animal Testing: Human clinical and epidemiological studies, cadavers, and computer simulators are more reliable, more precise, less expensive, and more humane than animal tests. Creative have used human brain cells to develop a model “microbrain,” which can be used to study tumors, as well as artificial skin and bone marrow. We can now test irritancy on protein membranes, produce vaccines from human tissues, and perform pregnancy tests using blood samples instead of killing rabbits.

TOPKAT, a sophisticated software package that allows researchers to predict the degree of skin and eye irritation and the oral toxicity of chemicals, is currently being used by the Environmental Protection Agency, the FDA, the U.S. Army, 3M Corporation, and Philip Morris, sparing countless animals the agony of having substances dripped into their eyes, rubbed into their shaved, abraded skin, or pumped into their stomachs and lungs. The U.S. Department of Transportation stopped using animals to test corrosive substances after PETA persuaded it to adopt a replacement test. Now, instead of smearing animals’ backs with corrosive chemicals, the Department of Transportation uses Corrositex, in which substances are placed on a protein membrane.

For more information about why we should not use animals in medical experiments, alternative methods, and other topics, please see the following sites:

Ultimately, it boils down to the moral principle that we do not have the right to manipulate and kill animals for our own purposes. We feel it is wrong to experiment on animals for the same reason it is wrong to experiment on the poor, the mentally retarded, or the institutionalized. Because they are weaker than us, or perhaps less able to communicate in ways we can understand, that does not give us the right to barter their lives away. It is not necessary or ethical for non-consenting people or animals to be sacrificed for the “common good.”

If you are interested in learning even more about why animal research is cruel and unnecessary, and about better non-animal alternatives, you may wish to read the books, Sacred Cows and Golden Geese and What Will We Do If We Don’t Experiment On Animals? by Drs. Ray and Jean Swingle Greek.

Thanks again for asking!