Legislation and Regulations in Laboratory Animal Welfare

​The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the federal law governing the care and use of laboratory animals in the United States. The AWA covers all warm-blooded animals excluding farm animals, horses not used for research, and mice, rats, and birds bred for use in research. The AWA’s regulations spell out requirements for veterinary care, food and water, protection from temperature extremes, shelter from outdoor elements, sanitation, and record keeping.

A separate piece of legislation, called the Health Research Extension Act, passed in 1985, covers all vertebrates used in research, testing, and education — including the mice, rats, and birds excluded under the AWA — if the work is funded by the Public Health Service (PHS). The PHS Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals sets the standards for care and housing that must be provided for animals in PHS-funded studies.

Facilities covered by the AWA that use animals for research, testing, or education must form an Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) to oversee their animal programs. IACUCs are composed of scientists, veterinarians, and at least one member of the general public who is not affiliated with the institution in any way. IACUCs not only inspect the institution’s laboratories and teaching facilities, they must also review and approve all research and education protocols before any animals can be used. They also look for evidence that the investigator has made a concerted effort to identify alternatives to research on animals that might cause pain and distress, and if animals must be used, that there is a plan for alleviating that pain and distress. There are approximately 1,400 IACUCs associated with research, testing, and educational laboratories across the United States.

Additional Links to Guidelines

​International Guiding Principles for Biomedical Research Involving Animals

USDA Legislation Guidelines for Laboratory Animals

The American Veterinary Medical Association's Government Relations Division (GRD) advocates the Association's policies and positions on federal legislative and regulatory issues that influence animal and human health and advance the veterinary medical profession – these issues include those associated with animal welfare and the human-animal bond. To find out what the AVMA is currently working on, please visit: https://www.avma.org/Advocacy/National/Pages/default.aspx