Animals in Science

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Millions of animals, including over 170 species, are dissected or vivisected in schools and universities each year. Cats, frogs, fetal pigs, grasshoppers, mink, earthworms, rats, mice, dogs, pigeons, and turtles are just some of the species used.

While most of the animals used in schools and universities are purchased as dead specimens, many are subjected to painful and lethal procedures while still alive. Animals are also obtained as byproducts of cruel industries, slaughterhouses and fur farms. Most of these animals led deprived lives, and welfare standards at such facilities are sometimes not enforced.

Species Used and Where They Come From

An estimated six million vertebrate animals are dissected yearly in U.S. high schools alone, with an additional, unknown number used in colleges and middle and elementary schools. The number of invertebrate animals dissected is likely comparable to that of vertebrates. The most commonly dissected vertebrates are frogs, fetal pigs, and cats. Others include dogfish sharks, perch, rats, pigeons, salamanders, rabbits, mice, turtles, snakes, mink, foxes, and bats. Invertebrates include crayfish, grasshoppers, earthworms, clams, sea stars, squid, sea urchins, and cockroaches.

Most animal species used in dissection are predominantly taken from the wild. These include frogs, spiny dogfish (sharks), mudpuppies and other salamanders, birds, snakes, turtles, fish, and most invertebrates. Other animals used in dissection, like fetal pigs and mink, are acquired from slaughterhouses and fur farms. Cats used for dissection are purchased from 'Class B' dealers who obtain cats from a variety of legal and illegal sources, such as animal shelters, 'free to good home' ads, and pet theft. These animals are sold to biological supply companies, which sell them to schools and colleges/universities for dissection.

Desensitization to Suffering

Seeing and cutting into dead animals, who may once have been someone's companion, can be very traumatic or otherwise difficult for students. Use of animals from slaughterhouses, fur farms, or shelters and pounds neglect the greater problems of animal cruelty, why these animal lives have been wasted, and the animal overpopulation crisis. It instills a utilitarian view of animals, disregarding the study of life, and it promotes desensitization towards animal suffering. The purchase of cadavers for dissection creates another demand for these cruel industries.

Moving Toward Alternatives

Many educators are now questioning the value of the use of animals in education. Teachers and professors recognize that students can learn equally as well, and often better, through the use of modern technology. The majority of studies published in peer-reviewed journals show that students learn more when using alternatives to dissection. There is also an important lesson taught when not using real animals: Students learn to respect living beings, and begin to appreciate and understand the role of animals in nature. This is fundamental to biology, the study of life.


Animalearn, AAVS’s education division, works to foster an awareness of and respect for animals, and strives to eliminate the use of animals in education, helping educators and students to find the most effective non-animal methods to teach and study science. Animalearn is the curator of The Science Bank, a free lending program of new and innovative life science software and educational products that enable educators and students to learn anatomy, physiology, and psychology lessons without harming animals, themselves, or the Earth. Animalearn also provides humane education curricula and materials free of charge for educators and students.

Humane education alternatives are available. Click here to learn more about AAVS’s education program, Animalearn.
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