Veterinarians Promote Animal Welfare through Research

​Veterinarians play a critical role in maintaining and promoting good welfare of animals within the research environment. Veterinarians can work in a laboratory setting or do research through teaching and education. Many veterinarians who work in research choose to pursue additional training and may obtain a masters or doctorate (PhD) degree in addition to their doctorate in veterinary medicine.

Specific for laboratory animal veterinarians, often they obtain these advanced degrees while completing an additional 3 to 6 years of training that allows them to specialize in laboratory animal medicine. Board-certified laboratory animal veterinarians (specialists) have successfully completed not only advanced training, but have passed an examination offered by the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM). The ACLAM is recognized by the AVMA as the certifying organization for specialists in laboratory animal medicine.

Candidates who pass the ACLAM certification examination receive the title of Diplomate. The ACLAM has certified more than 525 veterinarians as active specialists in the field of laboratory animal medicine.

What do research animal veterinarians do?

  • Provide veterinary care and expertise relating to husbandry and welfare
  • Monitor disease control programs
  • Serve on Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC)
  • Provide diagnostic services
  • Provide advice on regulatory issues
  • Conduct research

Meet Some of Our Colleagues Who Promote the Welfare of Animals through Research

There are a broad range of veterinarians that work in animal research. Some monitor the health and well-being of animals in a laboratory setting, while others get approval from clients to enroll patients in clinical trials.

Veterinarians and researchers continually look to move towards non-animal based models but sometimes that is not possible. In those instances, we do everything we can to improve the lives of animals used in research.

Other veterinarians develop techniques for the benefit of many different kinds of domestic and wild animals. Here are some examples veterinarians who take part in research for the promotion of animal welfare.

A loggerhead sea turtle treated with tramadol after placement of a surgical plate as part of post-operative care

Terry Norton DVM ACZM, is the Director, Founder, and Veterinarian for the Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island.  As a Diplomate in the American College of Zoological Medicine, his career has focused on conservation efforts through evaluation and improvement of the health of many state and federally listed species, including a variety of turtles, snakes, birds, and marine mammals. His recent research into tramadol pharmacokinetics in Loggerhead Sea Turtles (Caretta caretta) promotes animal welfare by providing safer and more effective pain management techniques in sea turtles undergoing rehabilitation.

Debra Hickman, DVM, MS, DACLAM, DACAWDebra Hickman, DVM, MS, DACLAM, DACAW, is a laboratory animal veterinarian and oversees veterinary care and regulatory compliance for animals used in research. Her research uses physiology and applied ethology to assess animal welfare, primarily focusing on rats. In this recent article, she evaluated the welfare of research rats housed in multilevel cages in hopes of improving their overall well-being.


Julie Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVIMJulie Levy, DVM, PhD, DACVIM, is an internist who works on applied projects to solve common clinical problems. She has specific interests in the health and wellbeing of cats, with a special focus on infectious diseases and humane community cat management. She works in the field to decrease cat population size via neutering as well as testing novel approaches in the laboratory setting, such as the efficacy of a contraceptive vaccine in cats. When asked about her work, Levy shared this article, in which she worked on with her collaborating shelter medicine resident Dr. Katherine Polak, which describes "the unintended consequences of confinement of large numbers of homeless cats, including some of the classic medical conditions found in the feline victims of large scale institutional cat hoarding cases."  

Dr. Dean Hendrickson, DVM, DACVS and Dr. Fausto Bellezzo DVM, DACVS
Photo Credit: Bill Cotton at CSU

Other veterinarians, like Dean Hendrickson, DVM, DACVS and Fausto Bellezzo DVM, DACVS, have developed a product that minimizes use of live animals in teaching. They worked with a team of people to develop, SurgiReal, a synthetic "skin-like" product to educate veterinary and medical students on suturing techniques with technology that mimics blood flow to tissues. Links to an article describing SurgiReal's development can be found here as well as a video of the product.

For additional information about veterinarians working to promote animal and human health through research, check out the Biomedical Research Spotlight page.

Want more information about a career in Laboratory Animal Medicine?

More information about the AVMA's American Board of Veterinary Specialties, including information about the ACLAM and the American College of Animal Welfare (ACAW) is available here.

Career Focus - Laboratory Animal Veterinarian (video from the Northwest Association of Biomedical Research)