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An introduction to the recognition of pain, suffering and distress in laboratory animals

Being able to recognise animal pain, distress and suffering is an essential skill for anyone working with laboratory animals. We need to be able to do this in order to minimise the causes of poor welfare (i.e. to refine our procedures) either by applying humane endpoints, modifying the way we perform the procedure, or providing appropriate treatment of the problem.


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If we cannot recognise how much pain or distress an animal is experiencing, then we will not be able to assess whether treatment of the animal has been effective. Nor will we be able to evaluate whether changes to the procedure represent an improvement in terms of animal welfare.

We also need to be able to recognise pain, distress and suffering in order to classify procedures as mild, moderate or severe, to meet our obligations under the EU Directive 2010/63/EU and our national legislation that implements this Directive (the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act in the UK). The e-learning program that accompanies these notes provides instructional video material to help gain this understanding.

Remember that if you are uncertain as to whether an animal is experiencing pain or distress, or could be suffering, then you should always seek expert advice.

Updated on 12th May 2020

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