Use of Animals in Precollege Education

This position statement presents guidelines and resources for the humane care and responsible use of animals in precollege education. This document also offers recommendations on classroom dissection and on the use of animals in science fair projects.

The American Association for Laboratory Animal Science (AALAS) recognizes that the appropriate and humane use of animals in the elementary and secondary classrooms can provide significant educational benefits to the students, and that a positive interaction between students and animals in the classroom enhances not only scientific learning but also provides an additional avenue promoting the development and growth of the students’ sense of responsibility and respect for all living things.

As part of its broader educational mission to ensure that all animal use is performed responsibly and humanely, AALAS has developed a series of species-specific informational pamphlets about species commonly found in classrooms settings such as mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, reptiles, and amphibians. These pamphlets can be found on the AALAS web site. Additionally, AALAS recognizes that other organizations have developed similar guidelines and recommends that teachers and educators familiarize themselves with these documents. These guidelines are:

Although developed by different organizations, the five documents above have a lot in common and are in harmony with each other. The ILAR principles are listed below with additional comments that suggest practical approaches to educators who want to ensure the ethical and humane treatment of animals in their classrooms.

Principles and Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Precollege Education

  • ILAR Principle 1. Observational and natural history studies that are not intrusive (that is, do not interfere with an animal’s health or well-being or cause it discomfort) are encouraged for all classes of organisms. When an intrusive study of a living organism is deemed appropriate, consideration should be give first to using plants (including lower plants such as yeast and fungi) and invertebrates with no nervous systems or with primitive ones (including protozoa, planaria, and insects). Intrusive studies of invertebrates with advanced nervous systems (such as octopi) and vertebrates should be used only when lower invertebrates are not suitable and only under the conditions stated in Principle 10.
  • ILAR Principle 2. Supervision shall be provided by individuals who are knowledgeable about and experienced with the health, husbandry, care and handling of the animal species used and who understand applicable laws, regulations, and policies.

    AALAS recommends that educators seek the advice of a veterinarian with demonstrable expertise in laboratory animal medicine before introducing animals in the classroom. The advisor should have formal training in laboratory animal medicine and preferably be a Diplomate of the American College of Laboratory Animal Medicine (ACLAM, or a member of the American Society of Laboratory Animal Practitioners (ASLAP, These professionals are often associated with biomedical institutions. They can provide sound advice on animal husbandry, veterinary care, and regulatory guidelines pertaining to animals in an academic environment.
  • ILAR Principle 3. Appropriate care for animals must be provided daily, including weekends, holidays, and other times when school is not in session. This care must include: nutritious food and clean, fresh water; clean housing with space and enrichment suitable for normal species behaviors; and temperature and lighting appropriate for the species.

  • ILAR Principle 4. Animals should be healthy and free of diseases that can be transmitted to humans or to other animals. Veterinary care must be provided as needed.

    Specific information about commonly used species such as amphibians, reptiles, mice, rats, hamsters, guinea pigs, and rabbits can be found on the AALAS web site. This information includes physiological data, housing, feeding, handling requirements, and diseases of the species. Links to other web sites that may be useful to the teacher or student are also available. Regardless of the animal species used in the classroom, animal records should be maintained by the students and overseen by the teacher. These records should include the animal’s identification, the person(s) responsible for the animals and a log that describes the date and time of feeding, water changes, and cage cleaning. A brief description of the animal’s general health should also be included. Initials of the person who records this information should accompany each entry. AALAS distributes a guideline for a school to oversee the care and use of animals. This Critter Care Guideline is available from the AALAS web site.
  • ILAR Principle 5. Students and teachers should report immediately to the school health authority all scratches, bites and other injuries, allergies, or illnesses.

    AALAS recommends that educators consult with their administration and health care consultants prior to the use of animals in the classroom. Caution is of particular importance because of possible allergies of students and staff to animals and diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and humans to animals. Recommended references are from the Institute of Laboratory Animal Research, National Research Council entitled “Laboratory Animal Allergy”, Volume 42, number 1, 2001 and from “Animals in the Classroom: Allergy and Asthma Considerations” .
  • ILAR Principle 6. Prior to obtaining animals for education purposes, it is imperative that the school develop a plan for their procurement and ultimate disposition of the animals. Animals must not be captured from or released into the wild without approval of the responsible wildlife and public health officials. When euthanasia is necessary, it should be performed in accordance with the most recent recommendations of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) 2000 Report by its Panel on Euthanasia. It should be performed only by someone trained in the appropriate technique.

    The web link to the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia report is:

    AALAS strongly recommends that euthanasia be performed with the counsel and advice of a veterinarian.

  • ILAR Principle 7. Students shall not conduct experimental procedures on animals that: are likely to cause pain or discomfort or interfere with an animal’s health or well-being; induce nutritional deficiencies or toxicities; or expose animals to microorganisms, ionizing radiation, cancer-producing agents, or any other harmful drugs or chemicals capable of causing disease, injury, or birth defects in humans or animals. In general, procedures that cause pain in humans are considered to cause pain in other vertebrates.

    AALAS strongly encourages the use of animals in educational experimentation that does not cause pain and distress or that does not expose animals or students to harmful infectious, physical, or chemical agents. Suggested sources for information on detecting signs of pain and distress in laboratory animals are “Signs of Pain and Distress in Animals "  and the advice and guidance of a veterinarian.
  • ILAR Principle 8. Experiments on avian embryos that might result in abnormal chicks or in chicks that might experience pain or discomfort shall be terminated 72 hours prior to the expected date of hatching. The eggs shall be destroyed to prevent inadvertent hatching.

  • ILAR Principle 9. Behavioral conditioning studies shall not involve aversive stimuli. In studies using positive reinforcement, animals should not be deprived of water; food deprivation intervals should be appropriate for the species but should not continue longer than 24 hours.

  • ILAR Principle 10. A plan for conducting an experiment with living animals must be prepared in writing and approved prior to initiating the experiment or to obtaining the animals. Proper experimental design of projects and concern for animal welfare are important learning experiences and contribute to respect for and appropriate care of animals. The plan shall be reviewed by a committee composed of individuals who have the knowledge to understand and evaluate it and who have the authority to approve or disapprove it. The written plan should include the following: a statement of the specific hypotheses or principles to be tested, illustrated, or taught; a summary of what is known about the subject under study, including references; a justification for the use of the species selected and consideration of why a lower vertebrate or invertebrate cannot be used; and a detailed description of the methods and procedures to be used, including experimental design; data analysis; and all aspects of animal procurement, care housing, use and disposal.

AALAS recommends three reference documents that provide information about the composition and function of an animal care and use committee and that can be used as a basis for review and approval of animals in the classroom. These are:

  1. The Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, National Academy Press, Institute for Laboratory Animal Research at
  2. The Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Handbook, Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, NIH which can be found at
  3. “Establishing a Critter Care Committee (CCC)”and the complementary “Classroom Animal Care Proposal” created by NJABR and the AALAS Foundation and Animals, available on the AALAS web site at

Recommendation on Classroom Dissection
Classroom dissection of nonhuman vertebrate animals is a useful adjunct to the biology curriculum if done with well-defined educational objectives and an appropriateness for the grade level and maturity of the students.

The animal used should represent the lowest phylogenic species that will satisfy educational objectives.

The dissection activity must be well supervised to ensure that:

  • students maximize the value of the animals being used.
  • the animal specimen is treated respectfully.
  • the procedure is done safely.

Alternatives to animal dissection should be used whenever they would adequately serve as substitutes. Students’ views on dissection should be openly discussed and respected with non-dissection alternatives made available when feasible and the student allowed to opt out of the dissection if no alternative is possible.

Recommendation on the Use of Animals in Science Fair Projects
The use of nonhuman vertebrate animals in science fairs is a privilege and should adhere to the same high standards that are used in the scientific community to ensure the welfare of both the animals and the student.

The animal used should represent the lowest phylogenic species that will satisfy educational objectives.

All animals used must be treated humanely and cared for properly at all times:

  • Students using vertebrate animals must follow applicable regulations.
  • Animal housing must be comfortable, clean, and free of hazards.
  • Animals must have free access to clean water and a food supply.
  • Animals must be observed daily, including weekends, holidays, and during vacation periods.
  • Provisions must be made to ensure that a safe temperature and humidity level are maintained in the animals’ environment.
  • Veterinary care must be readily available.
Teachers and students who will handle or care for the animals should be trained in proper methods and techniques so as not to cause harm or stress to the animals, themselves, or others.

Except for observational studies, all research involving vertebrate animals should be directly supervised by the teacher or other professional.

In addition, AALAS recommends that individuals involved in science fairs familiarize themselves with the International Rules for Precollege Science Research: Guidelines for Science and Engineering Fairs published by Science Service, Washington, DC ( These rules govern all science fair projects at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) and all affiliated fairs and are a detailed extension of the ILAR Guidelines. Strict adherence to the rules and guidelines governing the use of non-human vertebrate animals in this document is recommended.