Office of Research & Development

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Frequently Asked Questions about VA Canine Research

1. Why does VA conduct research using dogs?

  • There is international scientific consensus that some needed medical advances cannot yet be achieved without animal research.
  • Only five VA stations conducted canine research in 2016. Less than 0.05% of all animals studied in VA research in 2016 were dogs. But some medical research can be done only in dogs because dogs are more similar to humans than other species like rats or mice are, in terms of size and physiology.

2. What does VA do to look out for the welfare of the dogs involved in the research studies?

  • VA supports animal research only when it is scientifically necessary, and only if animal welfare is appropriately safeguarded.
  • VA requires compliance with all the regulatory requirements of USDA and NIH for animal research. (Click here for a January 3, 2019 report from the NIH on their inspection and evaluation of the VA stations where research was being conducted with dogs.) This includes having a local ethics committee oversee the animal research at each VA facility.
  • VA policy goes beyond what USDA and NIH require. For example, VA allows animal research only in facilities that are accredited by AAALAC International, a voluntary accrediting organization that promotes internationally accepted standards of humane, responsible animal care and use.
  • When things go wrong, VA is committed to identifying, investigating, and correcting the immediate problems; doing what needs to be done to prevent recurrence; and reporting the findings and corrective actions taken, according to the regulatory requirements.

3. Has VA canine research really led to anything useful?

Yes! VA canine research has been key to many of the medical advances that many Veterans and others benefit enormously from today. Click here to read about examples in many different areas of healthcare, including smoking and lung cancer, organ transplantation, implantable cardiac pacemakers, and diabetes.

4. VA now does so little research with dogs, so what have we got to lose by stopping it altogether?

Stopping current VA canine research would stop the progress that VA is making to find better ways to care for our Veterans. Current VA research with dogs is focused on better ways to help Veterans with spinal cord injuries, and those with cardiac arrhythmias. Specifically:

  • People with some kinds of spinal cord injury or other respiratory disorders cannot cough effectively. Canine research currently going on in VA is working out how to stimulate the spinal cord in these people, to restore their ability to cough. Stopping this research will leave these people vulnerable to potentially lethal respiratory infections that could be prevented if they could cough effectively.
  • Without canine research, VA will not be able to move ahead with current work on ways to reduce the damage that heart attacks cause to heart muscle.

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Any health information on this website is strictly for informational purposes and is not intended as medical advice. It should not be used to diagnose or treat any condition.