A Lab Dog's Painful Life: Thousands of Man's Best Friends Are Still Used for Testing


The purpose-bred laboratory beagle is a remarkably versatile animal. It can be used to ingest a toxic compound until it dies and to ascertain human safety guidelines for pesticides. Its heart, brain and prostate are easily accessible for cancer studies. It is bred to be docile and obedient, and, if necessary, it can be purchased sans working vocal cords. For around $700, you get a 33-pound specimen that needs no more than 8 square feet of kennel space, per federal law.

For some research, including certain cardiovascular and skeletal studies — and especially testing that involves a treadmill — a beagle may not be appropriate. The preferred model for these studies is a large, mature, outbred, barrel-chested mongrel or hound. Their larger size ensures a higher volume of blood that can be sampled.

In 2013, approximately 74,000 dogs were used in scientific research, according to the Humane Society of the United States' tabulation of data provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The majority of dogs were used by private companies, but in 2012, the National Institutes of Health funded $263.5 million in grants for studies using dogs, with $45.3 million devoted to pharmaceutical testing.

Even though much of the work is taxpayer-funded, these institutions are loath to discuss specific studies, or even the use of dogs in general, with the media.