The use of animals in education


Sentient promotes the humane use of animals in education and advocates for funding to research and further develop humane alternatives to many traditional practices. 


Not all educational animal use is harmful to the animals concerned. Examples may include non-invasive observational or behavioural studies of wild or free-living animals, controlled handling of domesticated species, and beneficial clinical experiences involving real animal patients.


Unfortunately, however, animals have been and commonly remain the subjects of markedly invasive educational procedures, which sometimes result in death. These are conducted to demonstrate scientific concepts or teach practical skills to students of surgery, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and pharmacology, in particular.


Despite these common practices, hundreds of humane teaching methods have been developed during the last 25 years (Knight 2012). Examples include computer simulations and videos of professionally performed dissections (prosections) of animal cadavers, and experiments on living animals or their tissues; ethically-sourced cadavers (see following); preserved anatomical specimens; models; mannequins; surgical simulators; non-invasive self-experimentation; and supervised clinical experiences. 


Ethically sourced cadavers are obtained from animals who have been euthanased for medical or severe and intractable behavioural reasons, or who have died naturally or in accidents (Knight 2007). Client donation programs within veterinary teaching hospitals provide most of these cadavers. At least nine US veterinary schools and some international veterinary schools have established client donation programs in their teaching hospitals (Knight 2007). The killing of animals for reasons other than genuine medical or severe and intractable behavioural reasons is ethically controversial, and cadavers obtained through such killing cannot be legitimately classified as ethically sourced. This includes the killing of animals for teaching purposes, in slaughterhouses and animal shelters, and when surplus to the needs of the greyhound racing or animal research industries. 


Animal shelter neutering programs are a popular component of humane veterinary surgical courses worldwide and these have many animal welfare benefits. Students gain invaluable experience of some of the most common procedures they will later perform in practice (Richardson et al.1994, Howe and Slater 1997), the number of unwanted animals killed due to uncontrolled breeding and a subsequent lack of homes is decreased, and neutered animals are more likely to be adopted (Clevenger and Kass 2003). 


The introduction of humane teaching methods within university curricula has frequently been accompanied by educational evaluations comparing learning outcomes generated by non-harmful teaching methods with those achieved by harmful animal use. Of eleven studies of veterinary students published from 1989 to 2006, nine assessed surgical training – historically the discipline involving greatest harmful animal use. The findings support calls to introduce humane teaching methods: 45.5% (5/11) demonstrated superior learning outcomes using more humane alternatives, another 45.5% (5/11) demonstrated equivalent learning outcomes, and 9.1% (1/11) demonstrated inferior learning outcomes. Twenty-one studies of non-veterinary students in related academic disciplines were also published from 1968 to 2004. Of these, 38.1% (8/21) demonstrated superior, 52.4% (11/21) demonstrated equivalent, and 9.5% (2/21) demonstrated inferior learning outcomes using humane alternatives (Knight 2007).


Twenty nine papers in which comparison with harmful animal use did not occur illustrated additional benefits of humane teaching methods in veterinary education, including: time and cost savings, enhanced potential for customisation and repeatability of the learning exercise (often associated with superior educational outcomes), increased student confidence and satisfaction, increased compliance with animal use legislation, elimination of objections to the use of purpose-killed animals, and integration of clinical perspectives and ethics early within curricula (Knight 2007).


The evidence demonstrates that educators can best serve their students and animals, while minimising financial and time burdens, by introducing well-designed teaching methods not reliant on harmful animal use. 


Detailed information about the alternatives available for various academic disciplines is provided at by Jukes and Chiuia (2003). Links to libraries from which a variety of alternatives may be borrowed, along with free online computer simulations and educational studies of student learning outcomes, are available through, and www.InterNICHE.Org.




  • Clevenger J and Kass PH. (2003). Determinants of adoption and euthanasia of shelter dogs spayed or neutered in the University of California veterinary student surgery program compared to other shelter dogs. J Vet Med Educ 30, 372-378. 

  • Howe LM and Slater MR. (1997). Student assessment of the educational benefits of a prepubertal gonadectomy program (preliminary findings). J Vet Med Educ 24, 12-17. 

  • Jukes N and Chiuia M. (2003). From Guinea Pig to Computer Mouse: Alternative Methods for a Progressive, Humane Education. 2nd Edn. Leicester, UK: InterNICHE. 

  • Knight A. (2007). The effectiveness of humane teaching methods in veterinary education. Altern Anim Experimentation 24(2),91-109.

  • Knight A. (2012). The potential of humane teaching methods within veterinary and other biomedical education. ALTEX Proc 1,365-375. 

  • Richardson EF, Gregory CR and Sucre E. (1994). Enhancement of the surgical education of fourth year veterinary students by participation in juvenile ovariohysterectomy and castration program. Vet Surg 23, 415.