Which Animals Are Used
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Of those animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act, rabbits are one of the most commonly used in research and testing, second only to guinea pigs. Over 144,000 rabbits were held in laboratories in 2021, with nearly a third used in experiments causing pain and distress, according to AAVS analysis of data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Rabbits are widely used for experimentation and testing mainly due to practical, rather than scientific, considerations. They are small and usually docile, easily restrained, cheap to maintain, and readily breed.
How Rabbits Are Used
Although rabbits are most readily identified with testing cosmetics, which is now much less common, they are still used in chemical testing, for the Draize eye and skin irritancy tests, which are extremely painful and cruel. While being experimented upon, rabbits are often locked into full-body restraints to prevent them from touching eye or skin sores. These tests are not very reliable, because results are so variable, and there has been a lot of investment in the development of alternatives to replace the use of rabbits for these categories of toxicity testing.
Rabbits are used in basic and biomedical research, as models for diseases and disorders of the eyes, skin, heart, and immune system, as well as cystic fibrosis, cancer, and spinal cord injury. Another common use of rabbits is in painful procedures to produce polyclonal antibodies, which are widely used for a variety of research and diagnostic purposes. For medical products such as vaccines, drugs, and medical devices, rabbits are used to test pyrogenicity (the ability of the product to induce a fever).
Rabbits are intelligent and inquisitive animals and enduring life in a lab is particularly difficult for rabbits, causing great stress, weakening their immune systems, and making them more prone to illness.