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Animals in Research: Searching Alternatives : Getting Started


The United States Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations require that Principal Investigators consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to animals. This guide provides information and links to additional resources to help you conduct a thorough literature search to discover ways to reduce, refine, or replace the use of USDA-regulated species in research. You may find more information in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

Peruse this guide to:

  • View a list of databases to search
  • Develop a search strategy and find tips for searching PubMed
  • Browse suggested keywords for searching
  • Explore ways to manage results

Consider contacting a librarian to discuss your search.  A librarian can help you choose the best databases to search, develop a search strategy, save your searches, and more.

USDA Regulated Species

What animals are USDA-regulated species? Any live dog, cat, monkey (nonhuman primate mammal), guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or such other warm-blooded animal being used for research or education. As of 2/21/2023,  birds not bred for research are also a USDA-regulated species. The regulation excludes rats of the genus Rattus and mice of the genus Mus, bred for research.

What animals are not USDA-regulated species? Mice, rats, fish, invertebrates, reptiles, amphibians or birds bred for research.

Although it is NOT necessary to search for animal alternatives for non-USDA-species, it is still recommended that you consider the 3 R's--outlined below--in planning your research.

You may also want to review the Duke IACUC Policy on Considerations for Alternatives as well as Protocol Forms.

The 3 R's

Searching for animal alternatives is typically guided by the "3 R's":

  • Reduction - Minimize the number of animals used to smallest number needed to obtain statistically relevant results.
  • Refinement - Use techniques that reduce the incidence or severity of pain and/or distress in animals.
  • Replacement - Substitution of non-animal methods or material or a lower species that may be less sensitive to pain and distress.

First described in The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique by Russell and Burch (1959).


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Painful or Distressing Procedures

Below are some, but not all of the painful and/or distressing procedures you will be required to conduct a literature search for in order to seek methods of reduction, refinement, and replacement, and document in your protocols:


Chest Tube



Electrical Stimulation


Intraosseous Infusion



Nerve Transection​

Spinal Tap