Animals in Science / Research

Military Research

Following the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States, protecting the country from future acts of bioterrorism has become a research funding priority. Efforts to counteract bioterrorism have resulted in a dramatic increase in biodefense and infectious disease research and the use of animals to study chemical or biological agents.

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) was the primary federal agency in charge of military and biodefense research. Today, multiple agencies receive funding for “bioweapons-related activities [that] focuses primarily on research, development, and acquisition of medical countermeasures.”[1]  Since 2001, “the U.S. government has spent or allocated [over] $50 billion among 11 federal departments and agencies to address the threat of biological weapons.”[2] Still a leader in military research, the DoD’s mission is to “provide the military forces needed to deter war and to protect the security of our country”[3] and to “discover, design, and develop countermeasures against threats to the health and survivability of military personnel.”[4]

In military research, animals are used in medical and nonmedical research, education, and training. Species include amphibians, reptiles, fish, birds, mice, rats, gerbils, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets, cattle, pigs, goats, sheep, marine mammals, cats, dogs, and nonhuman primates all commonly used to study the effects of and treatments for conventional weapons, biological and chemical warfare agents, radiation exposure, burns, infectious diseases, and combat casualty trauma and emergency care training. For example, nonhuman primates are used in radiation studies and in the advanced stages of vaccine and drug development studies against infectious diseases and biological agents. Cats are used in pediatric and veterinary training programs, dogs in physiology and behavioral studies, amphibians in regenerative limb research, pigs and goats in combat trauma training, and vervet monkeys in chemical or biological agent exposure training. Rodents (like genetically altered mice) are used in all levels of drug and disease research. In trauma training labs, pigs are used to practice emergency surgical procedures and goats have limbs amputated to create severe blood loss and hemorrhaging. At least 15 U.S. military facilities (plus an unknown number of facilities run by private contractors) conduct combat trauma training involving thousands of animals.

Military research facilities also use animals to study hypothermia, frostbite, oxygen deficiency, respiratory distress, and heatstroke, and to develop “biological sensors, sonar, echolocation, biorobotics, aviation construction materials, and hearing and eye protection systems.”[5] For example, “marine mammals [like dolphins] are studied to determine their auditory detection thresholds in marine use as sentries. Studies of biosonar systems are conducted to enhance the use of military marine mammal systems for mine detection and retrieval, personnel detection, and reconnaissance.”[6] While many animals are used in military education and training, most under the DoD are used in medical research involving biological and chemical defense, infectious diseases, and the development and testing of new weapons. The DoD states “there are numerous research areas, including medical, chemical and biological warfare defense, where animal-based studies are particularly critical because the conduct of human use protocols is simply not possible in the search for understanding and developing protection against many highly lethal agents.”[7]  

According to a DoD animal care and use report[8], 488,237 animals were used in DoD research, education, and training in 2007—up from 364,629 animals used in 2006; the number of animals used per year from 1999 to 2006 remained relatively constant, averaging around 354,000 animals. From 2006-2007, the number of cats and dogs used increased, along with amphibians, birds, cattle, goats, pigs, mice, and gerbils. The number of nonhuman primates increased from 2005 (1,899) to 2006 (2,366), and then decreased in 2007 (1,669). In 2007, mice accounted for 87 percent of the animals used by the DoD.  Unlike the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the DoD defines an animal to be any “living or dead vertebrate animal, including birds, cold-blooded animals, rats…and mice…”[9] and therefore records the numbers for all animals used in DoD research and training. As a government agency, the DoD polices itself and DoD facilities are not subject to external oversight to ensure AWA compliance.


Military research involves the deadliest pathogens and diseases (like Ebola, Dengue fever, and Anthrax), typically creating severe suffering and lethal results. When animals are not being subjected to chemical toxins, deadly viruses, or radiation poisoning, they are used in medical training involving gunshot wounds, tissue damage, blood loss, burns, lacerations, and other painful and physical assaults to their bodies. For example, wound lab training can entail the shooting of animals to re-create battlefield injuries, and monkeys subjected to caustic chemical agents suffer seizures, breathing difficulties, and potentially death. In 2006-2007, 24 to 32 percent of the animals used by the DoD were involved in painful experiments in which they withheld pain relief. Every year roughly 60 percent of the animals used by the DoD are involved in or exposed to painful procedures.[10]

Besides the injury involved, using animals smaller or larger than humans to study human battlefield wounds can yield misleading data. For instance, bullet “tumble”—the trajectory of a bullet—differs according to the size of the target it hits. In general, variations in shape, size, and tissue organization between species can significantly alter the nature and extent of bullet-induced wounds, and several alternatives to the wounding of live animals already exist. For example, hospital emergency rooms treat thousands of gunshot wound victims a year. Valuable information could be gathered from these tragedies and qualified military personnel could assist and be trained in real-life human emergency care. Further, human patient simulators  (like the American College of Surgeons-approved TraumaMan System simulator) could replace the use of animals in medical training programs. Awareness concerning the need for more human-relevant training methods is increasing and some steps are being taken to reduce animal use. In 2010, the purchase or use of dogs, cats, nonhuman primates, and marine mammals for “inflicting wounds from any type of weapon(s) to conduct training in surgical or other medical treatment procedures” was prohibited.[11] While positive steps for those species, thousands of goats, pigs, and other animals are still being subjected to unnecessary, cruel, and wasteful experiments that could be replaced by more humane, cost effective, and superior non-animal alternatives. NEAVS works to remind the American public that all animals feel pain, suffer, and deserve protection from inhumane, invasive, and deadly research.

[1] The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. (2008, May 27). Federal Funding for Biological Weapons Prevention and Defense, Fiscal Years 2001 to 2009.

[2] Ibid.

[3] U.S. Department of Defense. (n.d.). About the DoD.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] U.S. Department of Defense. (2010, Sept. 13). Use of Animals in DoD Programs.

[11] U.S. Department of Defense. (2010, Sept. 13). Use of Animals in DoD Programs.