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Animals in research in Canada

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In the 1960s the Medical Research Council realized the need for regulation and improvement of the care and use of experimental animals in Canada, and asked the National Research Council to create a committee for this purpose.

The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) was established with the recommendation of the committee in 1982 as a non profit and independent organization dedicated to overseeing the use of experimental animals across the country, supported by universities and government departments where animals are used across the country. The CCAC has developed the Guide to the Care and Use of Experimental Animals, to which participating facilities must adhere.

The CCAC’s mandate establishes it as the national peer review agency to “act in the interests of the people of Canada” as the body “responsible for setting and maintaining standards for the care and use of animals used in research, teaching, and testing throughout Canada.” Member organizations of the CCAC include veterinarians, the research industry, educators, and scientists. The CFHS is the only animal welfare organization represented on the CCAC.


For more on the Canadian Council on Animal Care, visit their website:

The CCAC system of oversight of the use of animals in research, teaching and testing includes an assessment program and the requirement for Animal Care Committees at each facility. The assessment program involves the establishment of assessment panels to visit participating facilities every three years. Each panel consists of a CCAC Director, a veterinarian, two scientists from different facilities and an animal welfare representative. Facilities that are in compliance with the CCAC Guidelines will receive a Certificate of Good Animal Practice from the CCAC. The certification establishes that the guidelines have been met to provide humane care and treatment, to minimize pain and discomfort, and to avoid the unnecessary use of animals.

Every facility that uses animals for research, teaching or testing should have an Animal Care Committee to educate, assess and ensure compliance with the CCAC guides. This committee should include scientists, a veterinarian, someone from the institution not involves with animal use, a student and at least one community representative. The committee will review all protocols that involve animals and will meet regularly to discuss animal use in the facility and to approve protocols.

Before these guidelines were established by the CCAC, the only standard in place was the one-page guide of the Canadian Federation of Biological Societies.

While Sections 444-447 of the Criminal Code broadly protects animals against cruelty in Canada, it is provincial legislation that specifically covers the use of animals in research. Only four provinces – Alberta, Ontario, Quebec, and Saskatchewan – have legislation specific to animals in research. Saskatchewan and Alberta have incorporated the CCAC guidelines into their provincial animal protection acts.

The “Three Rs”: Replacement, Reduction, Refinement

In 1959 W.M.S. Russell, a zoologist and psychologist, and R.L. Burch, a microbiologist, published The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique and introduced the concept of the Three Rs.

The Three Rs – replacement, reduction, and refinement – are accepted around the world as the standard for humane and responsible use of experimental animals. They are fundamental to the Canadian Council on Animal Care program and are incorporated in its guidelines for the care and use of experimental animals. The CCAC is responsible for the oversight of research animals in Canada, and its Animal Care Committees (ACCs) require that the three Rs be used to justify the use of animals in research.

These principles help ensure that the objectives of a study using experimental animals minimize the number of animals used as well as the suffering these animals undergo. Over the past century there have been growing concerns over the use of animals in scientific research as more and more people begin to ask whether or not the objectives of a study can be met without using animals. New technology also means the use of replacements is increasing. The CCAC policy statement on ethics of animal investigation states:

“Animals should be used only if the researcher’s best efforts to find an alternative have failed…Those using animals should employ the most humane methods on the smallest number of appropriate animals required to obtain valid information.”

The Three Rs specifically outline how these standards can be adhered to:

Replacement refers to determining whether or not the study can be conducted without the use of animals. If non-animal alternatives can be used, the ACC requires that this option be explored and that a non-animal model be used if possible. Replacements for animal models include computer simulations, in vitro tests, and epidemiological studies. For more information on these see Medical Testing.

Reduction refers to the number of animals in the control and test groups of a study. The number of animals used in the study must meet scientific and statistical standards; animals that are not required for this standard should not be used.

Refinement refers to the methods used to test these animals. If animals are required for the study, and the minimum number is being used, proper husbandry practices and experimental procedures must be used to ensure animals do not suffer undue physical or psychological distress.

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