Role of dogs and dog’s breeders in biomedical research

These briefing notes explain the importance of dogs as experimental animal models, why and how this species is used in research and the role of animal breeders in drug development.



  •  Carnivores (which include dogs and cats) represent 0.25% of the total number of animals used in 2011 in the EU, while mice (60.9%) and rats (13.9%) are by far the most commonly used species (1).

7th report

  • For a new drug to reach clinical trials in humans, the S Food and Drug Agency (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) usually require toxicity tests in both a rodent and a non-rodent mammal. The rodent will often be a rat; the other mammal will usually be a dog.
  • Dogs are used because they are physiologically similar to humans.
  • Dogs can be used to determine the ‘maximum tolerated dose’, which helps to determine dose selection for human trials.
  • Dogs are especially suitable for cardiovascular studies due to the resemblance in heart connectivity and size to the human heart.
  • Experiments on dogs led to the discovery of insulin to treat diabetic patients, the development of blood transfusion procedures and the creation of the electrical defibrillator to restore normal heart rhythm (2).


  •  Dogs for research are purpose-bred and come from licensed breeding establishments as required in the European Directive that protects animals used for scientific purposes (3).
  • At the breeding establishment, dogs are housed in small groups and have enough space for regular exercise.
  • Breeding establishments are legally bound by the same guidelines as research centres and scientist, as laid out in European Directive 2010/63 (3) which seeks to ensure high animal welfare standards while encouraging the development of non-animal alternatives.


  •  Animals are required in medical, veterinary, environmental and scientific research to develop treatments for humans and animals.
  • There are many comparable physiological processes in humans and animals. In some cases, a gene present in an animal is also present in the human genome, suggesting that the function of that specific gene can be conserved between species.
  • Before testing a treatment in an animal, candidate drugs are, whenever possible, first evaluated using in vitro assays in cell cultures, ex-vivo tissues and computational modelling.
  • Both experiments on animals and in vitro help us to understand the biological processes associated with health and disease.
  • New medicines are tested in animals to determine whether they show unwanted side effects.
  • The use of animals in toxicology studies helps determine the therapeutic index (TI) of a candidate drug, which indicates its safety.
  • All animal research is performed according to the 3Rs principle of replacement (of animals with non-animal models), reduction (of the number of experimental animals) and refinement (of the procedures to cause the less pain to the animal) introduced by Russell and Burch in 1959 (4).

For further information please contact Emma Sanchez (, PR and Communications Officer for the European Animal Research Association.


  1. Seventh Report from the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament on the Statistics on the number of animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes in the member states of the European Union COM (2013) 859/final. (Accessed 15th July 2015).
  3. Directive 2010/63/EU. (Accessed 15th July 2015)
  4. Russell WMS, Burch RL (1959). The principles of humane experimental technique. London: Methuen. pp 238.


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