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Frequently Asked Questions

Who cares for the animals?

The Pirbright Institute’s Animal Technicians are experienced specialists in the care of animals. They are all trained in daily animal handling, husbandry, the recognition of signs of pain, distress and disease and the ethics on the use of animals in research.

All of  the Institute’s Animal Technicians undertake an accredited Personal Licence training course. Once qualified, they receive further inhouse practical training and supervision to enable them to undertake Licenced procedures at The Pirbright Institute.

Which species are used at The Pirbright Institute?

Research programmes at The Pirbright Institute are of the highest quality and only use animals when there are no alternatives.

The Institute mostly works with farm species; the species that will principally benefit from our research e.g. cattle, pigs, goats, sheep and poultry. In common with many UK animal facilities, Pirbright also works with mice, rabbits and guinea pigs.

How are animals sourced?

Farm animal species (e.g. cattle, pigs, goats, sheep) are either sourced from The Institute’s own herds or from a list of approved suppliers.

All small animal species (e.g. mice, guinea pigs, rabbits) are purchased from approved suppliers.

Animals sourced for use at Pirbright are subject to health screening programs to ensure animal welfare and health is of the highest standard.

How are the animals housed and fed?

Pirbright has a number of high containment and conventional animal units which can house a range of species from small to large animals.

Our animal facilities meet (and where possible, exceed) the ‘Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals Bred, Supplied or Used for Scientific Purposes.’ The purpose of this Code of Practice is to ensure that the design, construction and function of the installations and equipment of licenced establishments – along with staffing, care and practices – allow procedures to be carried out as effectively as possible.

All animals are kept in the best possible environment available to ensure and maintain their health and welfare. They are housed in rooms, pens, cages or isolators (dependent on species and study requirements) with bedding and nesting material. Enrichment is available to provide a stimulating environment in order for the animals to demonstrate their species typical behavior and to enhance and ensure their well-being.

We provide all species with a range of enrichment items. Large animals like cows and pigs are provided with mineral licks, brushes, toys, treats, bedding material and/or rubber matting. Small animals such as mice are provided with running wheels, nest boxes and nesting material.

How are the animals monitored?

All animals are checked at a minimum twice daily to ensure that they are in good health and comprehensive veterinary support is available at all times to ensure any welfare concerns are dealt with as quickly as possible.

Animal health records are completed by our Animal Technicians upon receiving the animals. These completed forms document:

  • the identity of the animals (including ear tag numbers)
  • descriptions of any illnesses, injuries or behavioral problems
  • dates and details of all medical observations, examinations or procedures
  • dates and details of all treatments

How many procedures do you carry out on animals each year?

The Pirbright Institute is committed to the highest standards of animal care and welfare. Our scientists are committed to the principles of the 3Rs: reduction (in numbers), refinement (of procedures) and replacement (with laboratory procedures) of animals. The 3Rs is central to the Institute’s values and we take seriously our responsibility to ensure that experiments are designed with the aim of avoiding the use of animals wherever possible whilst ensuring that we produce results that are of benefit to animal health and welfare in the longer term.

The impact of the work carried out by the Institute in improving the welfare of livestock in the UK and overseas is considerable. Therefore the proportionate use of animals is an integral and necessary part of the research that leads to the development of useful veterinary vaccines and diagnostics. These safeguard the wellbeing of countless livestock and the livelihoods of their owners.

In the UK, the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 (ASPA) regulates the use of animals in scientific procedures. All organisations undertaking regulated procedures under ASPA have to supply data to the Home Office for publication in the annual Statistics of Scientific Procedures using Living Animals.

It is illegal to use animals if there are alternative non-animal methods available and the expected benefits resulting from the research must outweigh any potential animal suffering. The Pirbright Institute makes every attempt to minimise the number of animals used and animals are only used when no alternatives exist.  

ASPA requires extensive project evaluation, taking into consideration ethical implications associated with the use of animals in scientific research. All programmes of work are evaluated to ensure that the programme of work has sound scientific benefits. A harm-benefit analysis is also undertaken to assess whether the harm that would be caused to animals – in terms of pain, suffering or distress – is justified by the outcome, taking into account ethical considerations and the expected benefit to human beings, animals or the environment.

Each year, the Home Office produce an annual report which provides the statistics on scientific procedures on living animals. These figures are collected from each Establishment and published on the Home Office website.

The number of procedures undertaken each year will fluctuate according to global viral outbreaks, strategic and economic decisions by government and investment by funding bodies etc. However the 3Rs is central to the Institute’s values and we take seriously our responsibility to ensure that experiments are designed with the aim of avoiding the use of animals wherever possible whilst ensuring that we produce results that are of benefit to animal health and welfare in the longer term. Specialist statistical advice is always sought when designing new experimental studies.

Species Number of regulated procedures
Number of regulated procedures
Cattle 107 156
Pigs 67 244
Sheep 9 16
Goats 0 30
Domestic fowl 969 1581
Mice 441 406
Rabbits 15 0


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