Animal Aid

BETRAYED - The Silent Suffering of Cats and Dogs

But these companion animals are the lucky ones. There are thousands of cats and dogs who never have a loving home, never have toys to play with, never explore the garden or woods. They live in barren cages or pens, born to die as victims of science.

According to the latest government figures, around 10,000 experiments 'likely to cause... pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm' are carried out on cats and dogs every year. The scientists' own published papers reveal that these animals suffer major damage to vital body systems, such as the heart, lung, brain and liver. They are surgically mutilated, infected with dangerous viruses and made to suffer convulsions, vomiting and other symptoms.

Supporters of vivisection often claim that animals in laboratories are well protected by the law. In fact, while undergoing experiments, the usual domestic anti-cruelty laws are not applicable. On the contrary, the legislation that controls vivisection sanctions the infliction of pain and suffering. It is the experimenters who are protected - from prosecution!

What is the nature of the experiments on cats and dogs? The animals are used to investigate a host of human afflictions, to see how the body works, and especially in the case of dogs, for drug and product testing. Some have even been employed in military research. Yet if similar treatment were meted out to the family cat or dog there would be outrage. This ambivalence is vividly illustrated by the well known Oxford experimenter Colin Blakemore who shared his home with a cat called Trevor. In the laboratory, however, Blakemore and his colleagues blinded numerous kittens for research into the visual system.

Victims of science

Despite being favourite companion animals, cats and dogs are forced into battle against some of our most serious ailments - even though there is a wealth of evidence demonstrating that they make hopelessly unreliable 'models' of human beings.

Cats are used for research into stroke, whilst dogs are commonly employed to investigate heart disease; both are used for migraine research. Experimenters try to mimic human disease by artificially inducing the condition, or its consequences, in animals. So, at the Institute of Psychiatry in London, cats were brain-damaged following a deliberately induced 'stroke', produced by blocking arteries in the animal's head. Likewise, scientists at the University of Oxford produced 'heart disease' in beagle dogs by tightening a wire around one of the coronary arteries.

Many of the experiments are commercially driven, being carried out by pharmaceutical firms to develop new drugs. In recently published examples, Glaxo-Wellcome used dogs to research yet another blood pressure pill, even though there are currently in excess of 60 available to doctors. SmithKline Beecham, Pfizer and Glaxo-Wellcome are in the lucrative migraine market, developing further drugs to combat headache. All have used dogs and, in the case of SmithKline Beecham, cats for the purpose. In other examples, companies have employed dogs to develop a heart drug (Pfizer), a cholesterol-lowering treatment (SmithKline Beecham) and an anti-thrombosis drug (Zeneca).

Analysis shows that most new drugs offer no therapeutic improvement over existing products, and are introduced for commercial reasons.

Beagles at War

During the 1980s, the government's centre for chemical and biological warfare, Porton Down, revealed that beagle dogs were being used in cyanide poison tests. A decade later, beagles were employed to develop a new sensory irritant called I-MCHT, whose effects are similar to those of CS and CN (tear) gas. At higher doses, the dogs suffered incoordination, convulsions, trembling, hyperactivity and rapid involuntary movement of the eyeballs.

Dogs are also used for testing non-medical substances. During the 1990s, thousands of beagles have been used to test the safety of agricultural chemicals, industrial substances, food additives and household products. These experiments are carried out by chemical companies and contract research laboratories. Product testing, together with the safety assessment of new drugs, account for most of the experiments (68 per cent) on dogs.

The other major use of these animals, especially cats, is in physiological research - to investigate how the body works. One technique employed by physiologists is to damage or interfere with a part of the body and then observe the resulting effects. Usually dubbed 'fundamental biological research' because they don't necessarily claim any practical application, such experiments are often motivated by scientific curiosity, and account for much of the work done on cats.

A popular subject for physiologists is the cat's nervous system. For instance, at the University of Wales in Cardiff, cats (and rats) were used for research into nerve cells from a part of the brain called the thalamus. To obtain brain tissue, the rats were decapitated. In the case of cats, they were anaesthetised, the skull surgically opened and the membranes lining the inside of the head removed. They were then killed, the optic nerve severed and the brain removed to obtain the nerve cells for experiment. In another example, cats were subjected to spinal cord damage at the University of Cambridge to investigate nerve pathways.

Another favourite area for physiologists is the cat's visual system and, historically, many animals have been blinded to investigate the visual cortex. A 5-year survey of scientific journals during the 1980s revealed 156 published papers on 'sight deprivation' in the world's laboratories.

Silent suffering

Around half of the experiments on cats use anaesthetics at some stage and many of these animals are 'fortunate' in that they are killed at the end of the procedure before the anaesthetic wears off - unless, that is, the experimenter has made a mistake with the anaesthetic and the animal feels everything. Such errors are never mentioned in scientific reports or government statistics, yet just as in human therapeutic surgery, they must occur; the difference is that people often live to tell the tale.

Some experiments use no anaesthetic and there is no doubt that animals suffer. In a long series of tests at the University of Glasgow, cats have been deliberately infected with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) to investigate its effects. FIV produces an AIDS-like disease and is seen by some scientists as an 'animal model' of HIV. It should be stressed, however, that FIV only harms its host species - cats - just as HIV is only pathogenic for human beings. In the Glasgow experiments, FIV has produced fever, conjunctivitis and inflammation of the eye, with one report describing how a cat developed 'profound anorexia', weight loss, stomach pain and jaundice. It was killed on 'humane grounds'.

In contrast to the situation with cats, most experiments on dogs are conducted without any anaesthetics. Dogs are most commonly employed for toxicity tests which rarely use any form of pain relief. This is because experiments can last for weeks or months and, in any case, an anaesthetic may interfere with the test substance, so making it even more difficult to make the data relevant to people. Although the findings from safety tests are usually kept secret for commercial reasons, the UK's Centre for Medicines Research has compiled information from industry sources which list symptoms and injuries experienced by dogs during drug trials. These included vomiting, diarrhoea, convulsions, shivering, anorexia and hyper-excitement; plus eye, liver, kidney, heart and lung damage, and of course death.

It is not only during the experiment that animals may suffer. In March 1997 the Channel 4 television documentary Countryside Undercover revealed how two technicians at Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) had punched and violently shaken beagle dogs used for experiment. HLS is Europe's largest contract research laboratory and uses dogs and other animals to test products on behalf of clients.

Barren, cramped conditions

Laboratory cats and dogs usually live in a lonely, barren world because they are merely seen as a means to an end. Researchers even refer to their experimental animals as 'preparations'. Promotional material for the Kent-based company NKP, which supplies cages and other equipment for animals in laboratories, shows how little space cats are given. The aluminium wire cages supplied by NKP are 46" wide, 25" deep and 31" high. The company also sells racks to hold two or three cages at a time. 'Kittening' cages are even smaller, measuring 42" x 25" x 20".

A study by the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge notes that, 'Current dog housing typically consists of barren pens with little or no cage furniture or attempt to enrich the environment.' In order to investigate the effect of 'enrichment' on behaviour, the Department studied 60 beagle pups from a breeding colony at the Sandwich-based company Pfizer. Some were given toys, whilst others had extra human contact; specifically 30 seconds of petting per pup per daily visit. Those with the toys were said to make 'extensive use of such items', and the study concluded that 'Early enrichment is easy to achieve and can improve the quality of life for pups'. The dogs were later used for experimentation by Pfizer.

It is a sad reflection on the vivisection industry that such studies are deemed necessary. Yet a Home Office instruction to Huntingdon Life Sciences, following revelation of its barbaric treatment of dogs, includes a protocol which 'defines the minimum amount of staff time to be used to socialise with the dogs'

Wasted lives

Experimenters have long regarded animals as 'expendable species', to be employed as human surrogates whenever they deem necessary. It is assumed that cats, dogs and other animals will correctly predict how people respond to drugs, chemicals and disease. Yet the facts show that animals die not only cruelly but in vain.

Common medicines and everyday substances found in the home can react quite differently in cats and dogs. The pain-killing drug morphine, for instance, is not recommended for cats. The drug produces a condition known as 'morphine mania' which leaves them highly excitable and apprehensive. Their movements are irregular and jerky, and their pupils are abnormally dilated. In people, morphine has the opposite calming effect. Doses of another painkiller, aspirin, which are considered safe for human use, are poisonous to cats and dogs. In contrast, these animals can tolerate doses of the heart drug digoxin which are fatal to people. And phenol-based disinfectants are highly poisonous to cats because they are deficient in natural body chemicals which rapidly detoxify phenols and make them safe.

Reliance on cats and dogs to assess medicines for human use can therefore be dangerously misleading. There are all too many examples. Dogs failed to predict heart problems caused by the cardiovascular drugs encainide and flecainide, which led to an estimated 3,000 deaths in the United States. The angina treatment prenylamine was withdrawn from the UK market when it was found to cause ventricular tachycardia, a condition in which the heart beats abnormally fast. In cats, however, the drug reduced heart rate by 24 per cent! Carbenoxalone was introduced to combat peptic ulcers but was found to cause salt and water retention in some patients, leading to high blood pressure, swelling, weight gain, muscle weakness and heart failure. Experiments on dogs revealed no evidence of toxicity.

Dogs fail ultimate test

The use of beagle dogs and other animals to test the safety of medicines must be seriously questioned following an American investigation which found an unexpectedly high number of side-effects. The study of hospital patients in the United States suggests that medicines could harm as many as 2.2 million people a year, causing 106,000 deaths. This would make drug-induced fatalities the fourth biggest killer behind heart disease, cancer and strokes! The findings, published during 1998 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, show that animal testing does not make medicines safe for human use.

The most serious side-effects of oral contraceptives are on the circulatory system, placing women at increased risk of blood clots. Animal tests not only failed to identify the problems, but in dogs, the pill had totally the opposite effect, making it more difficult for their blood to clot! Mitoxantrone was developed in the hope of providing effective anti-cancer treatment without side-effects on the heart. In experiments with beagles, the drug appeared safe but in clinical practice, cardiac toxicity proved to be a major problem, with several patients suffering heart failure. And for years the contraceptive Depo Provera was denied to many women because dogs falsely predicted fatal side-effects.

Similar problems apply when cats and dogs are used to investigate illness and injury. As one animal researcher points out, 'the ultimate dilemma with any animal model of human disease is that it can never reflect the human situation with complete accuracy'. For instance, a group of American ophthalmologists has shown that vision research on cats is suspect because 'the feline visual system is a poor analogue to the human one'. Nevertheless, it has been claimed that experiments in which cats and monkeys were deliberately blinded has aided the treatment of amblyopia, or lazy eye, a condition in which vision is impaired. The key discovery - that there is a critical period in the development of sight during which defects can be corrected - in fact derived from human studies. Furthermore, there are species differences in this sensitive period, leading researchers to observe that, 'children appear to have a critical period which continues for longer than expected from animal models'.

Again, the use of animals to develop treatments for stroke has given conflicting results. Experiments on dogs and other animals suggested that barbiturates could protect against the effects of a stroke. In human stroke victims, however, barbiturates had little or no protective effect. In contrast, the drug nimodipine can aid people with a specific form of the disease (subarachnoid haemorrhage) yet has no beneficial effect on cats. And following experiments with cats, researchers suggested the drug clonidine as a way of preventing migraine. But years of clinical experience showed that clonidine is largely ineffective.

Dogs in heart research

Dogs are commonly used to investigate the causes and consequences of heart disease. An unconvincing version of the human ailment is introduced by tying off, or otherwise blocking, blood vessels to the dog's heart.

The illogicality of using dogs for heart disease research was underlined by William Clifford Roberts, editor in chief of The American Journal of Cardiology.

'Although human beings eat meat we are not natural carnivores,' he wrote in an editorial. 'No matter how much fat carnivores eat, they do not develop atherosclerosis,' Roberts added. 'It is virtually impossible, for example, to produce atherosclerosis in a dog even when 100 grams of cholesterol and 120 grams of butter fat are added to its meat ration. (This amount of cholesterol is approximately 200 times the average amount that human beings in the USA eat each day!) In contrast, herbivores rapidly develop atherosclerosis if they are fed foods, namely fat and cholesterol, intended for natural carnivores... And humans are like rabbits, natural herbivores.' Reference: W.C.Roberts, The American Journal of Cardiology, 1990, vol. 66,896.

Is this science?

Why are cats and dogs used when results so often prove misleading? The reason has more to do with tradition and convenience than science. Cats are popular subjects for physiological research because they are a convenient size, enabling experimenters to carry out dissections and implant tubes and recording devices, like electrodes, more precisely than with smaller animals. They are also easily anaesthetised for the long periods required for some physiological experiments.

When testing drugs and other substances, governments specify experiments on a range of animal species in the hope that at least one will predict how people respond. In addition to rats and mice, the rules also demand a non-rodent species, and beagle dogs have become the traditional choice. Another reason for choosing beagles is their docile temperament. This point is stressed by a US dog breeder: 'HRP understands the importance of easy-to-handle canines in a research facility... By selecting canines from lineage displaying good behavioural characteristics and intensive screening prior to broodstock selection, HRP is continuously improving the disposition of canines'.

The company goes on to state that, 'Each animal is visually acquainted to syringes and other devices it may encounter in a research setting. With sufficient notice, dogs can be acclimatised prior to shipment in the type of housing they will be entering at the client's facility (e.g. stainless steel caging, runs etc.).'

Dealers in death

The demand for cats and dogs has led to a highly profitable network of service industries - the animal breeders and cage, feed and equipment suppliers. It is true that some laboratories do produce their own animals. The pharmaceutical company Zeneca, for instance, has its own Animal Breeding Unit at Alderley Park in Cheshire which supplies beagle dogs for 'in house' tests and for collaborative research with other institutes. And the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge also maintains a colony of beagles for experimental purposes.


But most experiments on cats and dogs use animals supplied by commercial breeders. The Laboratory Animals Buyers' Guide lists just one supplier of cats - the infamous Hillgrove Family Farm, based in Oxfordshire. The company's promotional material boasts that animals have been 'Bred to 'Purrfection' for over 25 years', and it is estimated that, during 1997, Hillgrove supplied around 800 cats to British laboratories alone. Hillgrove's animals are bred to be 'specific pathogen free', that is, free of certain germs and therefore supposedly ideal for infection experiments. They are thought to sell at about £300 each.

A recent recipient of Hillgrove cats is the Essex-based drug company SmithKline Beecham, which uses the animals for headache research. One report describes how anaesthetised male cats with their heads held rigidly in a metal frame, were subjected to brain surgery. A chemical was then administered to the exposed tissues to produce changes in the brain thought to be involved in migraine attacks. The cats were killed at the end of the experiment. Hillgrove also supplies overseas laboratories, and an investigation during 1994 revealed that the company's kittens were being flown by British Airways to an Australian institute for infection research.

Britain's beagle breeders

  • B & K Universal Ltd, Hull ('Laboratory Animal Sciences - Total need concept').
  • Harlan Interfauna Ltd, Huntingdon ('Where Good Breeding Counts').
  • Harlan UK, Bicester ('Doing our best, so you can do yours').

The Buyers' Guide lists three UK companies supplying beagles for research but some experiments on dogs use animals supplied from overseas. The French company CEDS can supply beagles and mongrels, and with 350 breeding females, there is an annual production of between 1,500 and 1,700 animals. They are 'available immediately' says the company. A 6-month old beagle costs around £350, whilst the corresponding price for a mongrel is £410. Experimenters can also obtain dogs from the US company Covance. The company's 'research products' include purebred beagles, crossbred hounds and mongrels. A three month old beagle costs £265, rising to over £300 for an animal aged six months.

The vast majority of dogs in British laboratories are beagles but from time to time other breeds are used, and a recent report from London's Charing Cross Hospital reveals that ten mongrels were subjected to nerve damage to investigate kidney function. Home Office figures for 1997 indicate that, in addition to 5,729 beagles, 162 other dogs, including crossbreeds, were used in experiments.

During the 1980s hundreds of greyhounds were also used every year but an investigation revealed that the dogs were ex-racing animals, sold to laboratories for as little as £30 each. The National Greyhound Racing Club subsequently tightened the rules on re-homing dogs and introduced a national register of retired greyhounds. Since then, the number of greyhounds experimented on in UK labs has fallen dramatically but they are still occasionally used here. (NB There is still a major problem of Irish and UK-based greyhounds being abandoned when their racing days in in Britain; some end up in countries such as Spain, where they often suffer extreme exploitation on and off the track.)

In 1997 the Royal Postgraduate Medical School in London published details of experiments in which greyhounds, of unspecified source, were employed to find the relationship between gastric acid secretion and the sex of the dogs. A tube was implanted into the animal's stomach so that gastric fluid could be drained off for analysis. It is not only the breeders who profit from the plight of cats and dogs. There is a vast supporting industry which supplies bedding materials, special diets, cages, cage racks and accessories, portable holding rooms, isolation units, animal transportation boxes, restraint equipment, dosing and surgical apparatus, anaesthetic and euthanasia equipment, environmental control systems, animal identification services such as microchips and tattooing, protective clothing, security systems, and even special vacuum cleaners and washing machines for the animals' cages...

People power

Vivisection only survives through a conspiracy of secrecy and deception, and what experimenters fear most is that people will find out what is happening to the animals. There is no doubt that undercover surveillance and media reporting of laboratory cruelty has greatly aided the victims of science. In 1987, 15,788 experiments were carried out on cats and dogs but a decade later this had declined substantially to 8,936, a fall of nearly 45 per cent.

Perrycroft Lodge

In recent years campaigns have increasingly focused on the animal breeders, those who make vivisection possible in the first place. And again, people power is proving successful. One of the first victories was the closure of Perrycroft Lodge, the beagle breeders based in Herefordshire. Local campaigners had worked ceaselessly to publicise Perrycroft's grim trade but it was not until the horrific incident in September 1989, when 79 dogs bound for a Swedish vivisection laboratory died on a channel ferry, that the kennels became the focus of a national campaign organised by Animal Aid. Marches were arranged, leaflets and petitions calling for the closure of Perrycroft were distributed and regular street stalls were organised in the kennels' home town of Malvern. Indeed, the overwhelming support of local residents was to prove vital to the campaign. A successful prosecution by MAFF and continued bad publicity led to a loss of trade, and after action by the local council, Perrycroft finally closed. The campaign proved that people will support the animal rights cause when faced with incontrovertible evidence of animal cruelty.


Sustained campaigning also led to the closure of Consort, another beagle breeder based near Hereford. The company was reportedly selling dogs for around £500 to laboratories here and overseas but in 1997 was forced to close. A Consort director blamed massive security costs arising from the protest campaign.


The notorious Hillgrove Family Farm, which breeds cats for research, is now the centre of a well organised campaign with frequent protests and a high media profile. The group Save the Hillgrove Cats has been aided by leaked documents which reveal how kittens have been bitten or eaten by their mothers. Maureen Hutchinson, veterinary advisor to the Cat Action Trust, is quoted as saying: 'It is not normal for kittens to be eaten by their mother. This is stress-related. Life for a breeding cat in such sterile conditions could make a cat quite psychotic.'

Huntingdon Life Sciences

The closure of one dealer may lead to the expansion of others, and campaigners and local residents must be continually alert to new planning applications. For instance, plans by Huntingdon Life Sciences to build a dog breeding centre at its Occold site near Eye in Suffolk led to protests and lobbying of councillors. The Mid-Suffolk District Council refused the HLS application after receiving hundreds of letters of objection. The company appealed against the decision but in September 1998 conceded defeat and withdrew the appeal. As this report goes to press the future of Huntingdon itself is in doubt.

The fact that cats and dogs are the most popular companion animals does not protect them from the vivisection industry. It is intolerable that animals cherished by so many cab be so ruthlessly exploited by the few. Do scientists and dealers really think that cats and dogs bred for research feel less or have less right to life than the family friend?

We are convinced that the British public will be horrified by the revelations contained in this report. Our view is that such experiments should stopped immediately. We call for a full-scale government inquiry into the use of cats and dogs for research and testing.

Send this page to a friend

Read about how we treat your data: privacy policy.

© Copyright Animal Aid 2014