Research and testing on animals

Region: Ontario Answer # 4046

What is animal research and testing?

Animal testing, also known as animal experimentation or animal science, refers to when live animals and their bodies or tissues are studied and used for scientific purposes necessary to research and:

  • develop new drugs,
  • develop household products,
  • test cosmetics, and
  • for teaching purposes.

Animal testing is legal in Canada.

Who is the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC)?

Any organization and its personnel involved in animal research and testing must be competent and sufficiently trained in the principles of animal ethics and care to receive certification from the not-for-profit Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC). The CCAC is the “national peer-review organization responsible for setting, maintaining, and overseeing the implementation of high standards for animal ethics and care in science throughout Canada.”

How are institutions certified to conduct research and testing?

Canadian organizations that want to conduct animal research and testing must acquire certain funding and:

  • participate in CCAC animal ethics and care programs, and
  • maintain a CCAC Certificate of GAP – Good Animal Practice®

To maintain a CCAC Certificate of GAP – Good Animal Practice® institutions are subject to a regular review by the CCAC conducted by its peers, which includes an assessment of:

  • the institution’s animal ethics and care program,
  • the effectiveness of institution’s animal care committee to oversee the program and to ensure that every reasonable safeguard is in place to minimize any potential pain and discomfort that there might be, and
  • the appropriateness of their animal facilities, practices, and procedures.

For more information on certification and to find out which institutions are certified, visit CCAP.

What types of animals are used in research and testing?

According to the CCAC, approximately 3 to 4 million animals are studied for scientific purposes in Canada each year. These animals fall into two categories:

Purpose-bred animals:

  • born and raised in carefully controlled conditions and environments (such as research laboratories) by either a supplier or within an institution
  • bred specifically for science
  • includes rodents such as mice and rats, and fish

Non purpose-bred animals:

  • not bred specifically for science but are studied for educational purposes to teach veterinary medicine and animal health technology students
  • can include wildlife and farm animals
  • often includes animals with illnesses such as heart disease or cancer that given to veterinary schools by their owners in order to receive care and treatment

What type of animal research and testing can be conducted?

According to the CCAC, “animal-based science is only acceptable if it promises to contribute to the understanding of fundamental biological principles or to the development of knowledge that can reasonably be expected to benefit humans or animals”.

There are five categories of animal-based research and testing done at CCAC certified institutions:

1. Fundamental research studies that relate to essential structure or function, such as studying the migration patterns or habitats of wild animals.

2. Medical and clinical studies for medical purposes that relate to human or animal diseases and disorders, including:

    • studying rodents to better understand the genes involved in cancer
    • studying dogs to better understand and develop treatments for canine epilepsy

3. Regulatory testing of the efficacy and safety of products and medications (legally required by Health Canada before human trials can occur). This includes:

    • testing the safety of vaccines on rodents and non-human primates
    • testing the efficacy of a new medication for Parkinson’s disease

4. Studies for the development of products and medical devices for human or veterinary medicine, such as:

    • the development of new dietary products for farm animals
    • studies done on pigs to develop artificial organs for humans

5. Teaching and training done to communicate scientific concepts, and develop practical skills and expertise in specific techniques, including:

    • training veterinary students on disease prevention, diagnosis, and treatment
    • training animal health technicians on feline vaccination, X-rays, and dental care

Is animal research and testing ethical?

In order to ensure the welfare and humane treatment of the animals being studied and tested, CCAC-certified institutions must follow the “Three Rs” principle when developing any animal-based procedure or experiment. As per the CCAC, the three Rs are:

  • Replace: Avoid or replace the use of animals wherever possible;
  • Reduce: Employ strategies that will result in fewer animals used and are consistent with sound experimental design; and
  • Refine: Modify husbandry or experimental procedures to minimize pain and distress.

Other conditions include creating an environment which allows the animal to perform as many of its natural behaviours as possible; and providing extra care to the animals, such as reducing pain as much as possible, increasing bedding, keeping the animals warm, or providing softer food.

Provincial law

Provincial animal protection laws address animal welfare and cruelty issues. Although most do not specifically regulate research and testing, some provincial animal protection laws do reference the use of animals used for scientific purposes and directly refer to CCAC standards. These include:

Ontario Animals for Research Act

Ontario is currently the only province to have legislation specifically addressing testing and research. The Animals for Research Act regulates animal research activities and the operation of research and supply facilities (facilities that house animals used for research and testing)

The Act mandates include:

  • the use of anesthetics to animals in experiments that are likely to result in pain;
  • the use of analgesics during recovery; and
  • that every research facility establish an animal care committee.

As well, the operation of supply and research facilities must include standards of care for the following:

The Act also regulates the impoundment of cats and dogs by animal shelters, and authorizes the sale of cats and dogs from shelters to research facilities subject as per set conditions.

These mandates are enforced by Inspectors who control the registration of research facilities and issue licenses for supply facilities.

Federal law

Federal legislation addresses how research and testing of animals may be conducted:

  • The Criminal Code of Canada (sections 444 to 447) protects animals (in general) from cruelty, abuse, and neglect (visit topic 4000 for more information)
  • Canadian livestock are protected from a variety of infectious diseases under the Health of Animals Act (1990) and its regulations
  • The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has a number of conditions regarding the handling of animals.

Animals and cosmetic testing

It is legal to use animals for cosmetic testing. In 2015, federal Bill S-214 –  An Act to amend the Food and Drugs Act (cruelty-free cosmetics) was introduced in Canadian Parliament. If passed, Bill S-24 would have prohibited animal testing for cosmetics in Canada and banned the sale of cosmetics developed or manufactured using animal testing.

The Bill reached first reading in the House of Commons in April 2019, but no further action to pass this bill has occurred.

More info

Visit other sections of Animal Law and our Links and Resources for more information on animal care legislation. For more information on animal testing and research in Canada, visit the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC).


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