Animal Aid

Mad Science 2006 : Introduction

Rats

Rats are considered to be vermin by some people but wonderful companion animals by others. Interestingly, scientists have begun to discover what rat fanciers have known for a long time - that rats are capable of showing great affection for humans and for one another, and that they form highly functional societies where, for example, the strong will help the weak to obtain food. Ultrasonic recordings of rats at play have revealed the emitting of chirps - inaudible to the human ear - that are considered to be the equivalent of human laughter. Equally illuminating is the discovery that rats are capable of mourning.

Recognising these ‘human’ qualities in animals who have traditionally served the role of the ‘standard laboratory tool’ would have been unthinkable only a decade ago. However, researchers have been forced to alter their perception of rodents, due to a heightened awareness of their complex behaviour. Some scientists consider these attributes to be a good reason for conducting more research on rats. But do such ‘human’ qualities justify inflicting yet more pain and suffering on these highly intelligent and sensitive creatures?

Should society allow researchers to torment rats by shocking them, making them addicted to drugs, damaging their brains, forcing them to perform complex tasks, depriving them of food and keeping them in solitary confinement and devoid of any environmental stimulation?

Based on a wealth of evidence, a strong ethical case can be made against using rats in research. In addition to the ethical argument, there is now a mass of scientific evidence demonstrating that data obtained from rats cannot be reliably applied to human health. In the following pages are examples of ‘basic research’ on rats published in scientific journals during 2006*. They illustrate a research ethic that is devoid of compassion and that views these animals merely as laboratory tools capable of yielding data. The term ‘basic research’ is a catch-all phrase that allows scientists to conduct experiments that may or may not have tangible benefits for human or even animal medicine. The Home Office is quite content for the research to be speculative. It need only carry the suggestion that at some future, unspecified date something beneficial may emerge.

Animal Aid finds it alarming that researchers actually manage to think up such experiments, many of which are designed to cause pain and - in most cases - severely torment the animals used. This sort of behaviour towards animals - if it took place outside the laboratory - would certainly constitute a breach of basic animal cruelty laws.

Differences between rats and humans

  • Rats have four legs, a tail and whiskers.
  • They are chiefly nocturnal.
  • They live for 2-3 years.
  • They can produce 8-10 offspring per litter and up to 7 litters per year.
  • They can eat scraps off the street that would make us violently ill.
  • They have no gall bladder.
  • They cannot vomit.
  • They quickly eliminate cholesterol from their bodies (unlike people).
  • Their normal heart rate is around 300 beats per minute (72 in humans).
  • Their bodies manufacture vitamin C (ours cannot).
  • Rats require 20-27 per cent of their calories as protein for a maintenance diet (humans....require less than half that amount).
  • Apart from vision, all of their senses are measurably far more developed than those of ....humans.
  • Forty per cent of marketed drugs and food additives cause cancer in rodents.
  • Drinking methanol (a type of alcohol) leads to blindness in people, but not in rats.
  • The arthritis drug Vioxx, which caused an estimated 320,000 human heart attacks and....strokes, is cardioprotective in rats.
  • The antidepressant drug Paxil has been shown to cause birth defects in people but not....in rats.
  • The diabetes drug Rezulin safely lowered blood sugar in rats but caused fatal liver....failure in people and was withdrawn in 2000 after 391 deaths.
  • Tamoxifen, for prevention of breast cancer in women, causes liver cancer in rats.

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