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Home Back Issues No 7: RESEARCH COMPLIANCE: Is it permissible to purchase lab animals from local vendors?

May 07

No 7: RESEARCH COMPLIANCE: Is it permissible to purchase lab animals from local vendors?

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Is it permissible to purchase lab animals from local vendors?

Reader Question: A local farmer offered to sell me rabbits for our lab. Are we allowed to buy from a local person?

Expert Comments:

The simple answer is No.

First and foremost, rabbits are among those animals covered by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), certain provisions of which apply to individuals who sell and/or transport animals for use in research. So, just from the standpoint of the AWA, buying from that vendor probably is not a viable option.

But there are other considerations as well.

From a veterinary standpoint, animals used in research, including rabbits, typically are specific-pathogen free (SPF) animals. This means that they are free from certain select pathogens for that species. The select viruses, bacteria, or parasites may or may not cause clinical disease in that animal. Often these pathogens are chosen to be excluded because of their subclinical effects on the animals, such as altering the immune response or modulating the animal’s propensity to develop cancer.

Additionally, there are some pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to humans that also are chosen to be excluded in the interest of preserving the health of the research personnel interacting with the animals.

Rabbits that are not obtained from a properly licensed commercial vendor, such as those offered by your local farmer, likely are not SPF and may have any number of pathogens that your institution considers “excluded pathogens.”

The pathogen on top of the exclusion list for rabbits is Pasteurella multocida (aka “snuffles”). This is a ubiquitous bacterium that causes a multitude of clinical syndromes in rabbits, including nasal discharge, conjunctivitis, inner-ear infections, pneumonia, abscess formation, genital infections, and even sudden death. It is present in almost all rabbits outside those bred SPF for research purposes. If this organism were to be introduced into a research colony, an epizootic resulting in a significant mortality rate would be the likely result. Therefore, bringing in animals from a local vendor could put your existing rabbit population at serious risk.

Here are other reasons you should use approved commercial vendors when acquiring rabbits and other laboratory animals:

  • Minimizing the incidence of genetic abnormalities
  • Potential for replacement/reimbursement if an animal is sick or otherwise compromised upon arrival
  • Consistent supply of animals at a certain age/size
  • Decreased variance with regard to environment and genetic background.

Overall, while it may be attractive from a financial standpoint to purchase rabbits from your local farmer, it is not generally recommended, nor even permitted, at many research institutions. And, from a research standpoint, utilizing an approved commercial vendor ensures a healthier subject and, ultimately, better science.

Comments by Laura Gallaugher, DVM, assistant professor of veterinary preventive medicine and clinical veterinarian for University Laboratory Animal Resources, The Ohio State University.

Comments (8)
written by SciEd, May 09, 2010
No. You can't do that. You need to go through a vendor authorized by your institutional animal office. The institution can only purchase from a vendor compliant with lab animal welfare regs. Why would anyone want to buy from a vendor that with no quality control? No reputable institutional animal facility would allow such an animal in for fear of bringing in disease.
written by Dr. Serendip, May 12, 2010
Are we forgetting history here? Where do you think Louis Pasteur and Clarence Little got their chickens, rabbits and mice? Certainly not from fancy breeders, and the critters were not SPF free. Yet these scientists made amazing discoveries. Plus, let's not overlook the fact that serendipity could strike--a local farmer could bring in a peculiar rabbit having a mutation which helps unlock a human disease.
written by Anonymous, May 13, 2010
It is not about being cheaper for us, what about helping out the local economy? I know I try to buy food from my local area. Why not the animals too? Farmers are struggling these days!
written by kpm, May 13, 2010
From a research standpoint, also keep in mind that many strains of lab mice and rabbits are congenic inbred strains that show much less biological variation between individuals than what you will get from a local farm, or collected from the wild. In the end, this means using far less animals in your test groups to test for significant effects. It is best to use a minimum of rabbits or mice to find your answers. As a rule of thumb, if you wanted the power to T-test a difference of 10%, you would need at least 10 subjects per test group - in the congenic strain. This can swell to 30-100 animals per test group if you have a mixed genetic background.
written by Dr Deek, May 13, 2010
According to NIH officials, no permission or regulations apply to research on rats, mice and birds.. You can do0 it at your home and violate no law. Your institute probably has other rules, since people make lots of money selling animals for research. NIH regulations mandate you follow institutionla policy.
written by mousedoc, May 14, 2010
Selection of a vendor is entirely an institutional decision. It is quite legal to purchase any animals from local suppliers, although Dr. Gallaugher presents many considerations to keep in mind while evaluating vendors. Generally institutions choose to deal with only USDA registered or PHS Assured vendors, but this isn't always possible depending on species and strain requirements. The USDA does grant registration exemptions for some companies based on volume and economic value of animals supplied, so you could even have a traditional lab animal species that is regulated by the USDA, such as a rabbit, that is not a USDA registered vendor.
sponsor the farmer?
written by no-name, November 30, 2010
Show your local farmer the classes, species, and registrations he would need to comply with the breeding needs for your facility. Then leave it up to him to expand his own facilities.
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