The use of animals in research is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. This applies to all vertebrate animals and cephalopods (e.g. octopus and squid). A regulated procedure under the Act is any procedure causing the animal a level of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm equivalent to, or higher than that caused by the insertion of a needle in accordance with good veterinary practice– for example a vaccination. This is known as the threshold.

In addition, any genetically altered animal that is bred or used under the Act needs to be reported. Genetically altered (GA) animals may be natural mutants or genetically engineered.

In order to undertake experiments under AspA the individual doing the work must be trained and have been awarded a Personal Licence. They must work under an approved programme of work, which is the Project Licence and the place where the work is done must have been approved by the award of an Establishment Licence. Licensing is operated by the Animals Scientific Regulation Unit (ASRU) which operates on behalf of the Secretary of State for the Home Office.  

As a condition of being given a licence to conduct work under the Act, an annual report is required for the number and type of animal used in the previous year and the actual degree of pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm experienced by each animal.

There are 5 categories for the animal experience:

Sub-threshold - for example a GA animal with no harm caused by the genetic alteration

Mild – Transient pain, for example an injection or the withdrawal of a blood sample.

Moderate – moderate severity is greater than transient pain - for example surgery under anaesthesia (loss of consciousness) with analgesia (painkillers post-surgery).

Non-recovery – where an animal has been put under anaesthesia and does to wake up again

Severe – something that a normal human would not wish to endure (for example a heart attack).   Note that animals undergoing procedures that are found dead are classified as severe unless there is clear evidence that would support a lower category.

2021 figures for animals used at the RVC

In 2021, the RVC used 9972 animals in research. The vast majority of these were mice (68%), and zebrafish (23%).

These figures include those submitted to the Home Office as part of the annual returns.

Species Numbers used Rehomed/returned to clients/returned to dairy herd*
Cattle 11 10
Dogs 42 51
Domestic fowl 571  
Equidae 4  
Ferrets n/a 2
Hamsters n/a 3
Mice 6747  
Pigs 90  
Rats 180 2
Sheep 44
Zebrafish 2283  


 *these rehoming figures include animals that were used for teaching purposes and dogs that were rehomed from a breeding colony and so were not involved in experimental research. 

Twenty five client-owned pet dogs were involved in studies conducted under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act (ASPA) at the RVC where veterinary patients are studied in depth. These were all used with informed client consent and involved procedures of recognised veterinary practice but for reasons explained below could not be undertaken under the Veterinary Surgeons Act.

Ten cows were blood sampled for experimental purposes but remained as part of a dairy herd at the College’s farm.

We undertake a number of clinical studies involving veterinary patients who return to the care of their owners at the end of each procedure, which may have been something as simple as a blood test. Some of these studies need to be undertaken under ASPA - because, for example, additional blood samples or other clinical tests were undertaken for research purposes, rather than for the direct benefit of the animal involved in the study - and are included in the above table and the numbers of animals involved detailed above.  

For more information on these types of studies and the animals involved see Research using Client-owned Animals.

See also Use of Animals in Research - Case Studies for a series of short articles explaining how and why we use animals in research at the RVC.

Severity of procedures

Sub-threshold Mild Moderate Non-Recovery Severe
16.9% 66.7% 14.4% 1.5% 0.5%


The proportion of our funded research that relates to animal work

As a measure of the proportion of our research that involves experimental animals, the amount external grant funding used to cover the costs of purchasing and keeping the animals has been calculated as a percentage of the total non-pay spend from external grants and is 21.5%.  


BSU charges to RES grants - total         482,674
Total non-pay cost to RES grants     2,241,000*
% 21.5%


* Our accounting processes changed in 2021.  These figures now exclude payments passed to partners.  This explains the apparent increase in % from 2019/20.  

For details of animals used in previous years please see:

2020 figures

2019 figures  

2018 figures

2017 figures

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