For those of us who share our homes with cats, it is hard to imagine them used as lab tools. Yet over 14,000 cats were held in laboratories in 2021, according to AAVS analysis of data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Like dogs, the majority of cats used in experiments are purchased from facilities that bred them specifically for use in research. Not included in these numbers are the many cats obtained by biological supply companies for school dissections; many of those cats are obtained from pounds and shelters following euthanasia.
How Cats are Used
Cats are frequently used in neurology research to study spinal cord injury, as well as problems related to vision, sleep, and hearing, and continue to be used because so much is known about their neurological functions. This type of research is extremely invasive, and almost always results in the euthanasia of the cats after they are subjected to grueling testing procedures. They are also used to study cancer, genetic disorders, and SARS-CoV-2.
Additionally, cats are used in HIV/AIDS research due to a pair of AIDS-like feline viral diseases: feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). However, there are numerous important differences between the feline and human diseases, making cats a problematic and unsuitable model for HIV/AIDS research. The primary reason cats are used in research has much to do with logistical and practical reasons. They are easy to handle, house, and subject to experimental manipulations, especially when compared to primates, the other species of choice for HIV/AIDS research.