The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) was enacted by Congress in 1966, and amended in 1970, 1976, 1985, 1990, and 2002. It is the basis for federal regulation of the purchase, transportation, care and treatment of animals used in research. Animals covered under the AWA include any live or dead dog, cat, nonhuman primate, guinea pig, hamster, rabbit, or any other warm-blooded animal used or intended for use in research, teaching, testing, experimentation or exhibition. Although the Act specifically excludes rats and mice bred for research, as well as birds, the USDA does inspect facilities and reviews programs of any institution registered to do animal research with federal support. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the government agency responsible for enforcing the regulations set forth in the AWA.
USDA veterinarians conduct unannounced inspections of research facilities at least twice a year to assure compliance with legal standards of care set forth in the Act. These standards regulate such factors as cage size, animal identification, and sanitation. Recent amendments address such issues as exercise for dogs, the psychological well-being of primates, the composition and duties of the IACUC, the duties of the attending veterinarian, and the training of personnel using animals in research.
Each research facility must employ an attending veterinarian to provide veterinary care, including the treatment, control and prevention of animal disease, advising investigators about the proper use of animals, and providing appropriate pre- and post procedural care in accordance with established veterinary practice.
Research institutions must file an annual report to the USDA listing the species and number of animals used for non-painful procedures, painful procedures performed after the administration of anesthetic or analgesic medications, and painful procedures performed without the use of such medications. Failure to comply with USDA standards can result in civil or criminal prosecution and suspension of animal research activities.