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Animal Alternatives Searching: Introduction

Guidance for Researchers

IACUC Animal Care & Use Protocols

Prior to ACUP approval, investigators must demonstrate they actively searched for alternatives to procedures that may cause animal pain or distress. To answer Q. 11a and 11b of the AUP form, include:

  • Date you conducted your searches. Must be within the past 3 months. 
  • Specify the publication date range of your search; do not list "all years."
  • Database names. Two different database searches are required.
  • Search strategy. List search terms and any boolean operators (and, or, not).
  • Summarize findings related to each “R” separately: Replacement, Reduction, Refinement.
  • Address what alternatives are used, and if not used, why not.

Questions about the search process or these requirements? Contact Elizabeth Salmon (, Research Services Librarian. 

Why Search for Alternatives?

It's the Law

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requires principal investigators to consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress to animals and provide a written narrative of the methods used and sources consulted to determine the availability of alternatives, including refinements, reductions, and replacements (the 3 Rs).

Conducting a literature search is the primary method of meeting this requirement. Policy 12 of the The USDA's Animal Care Policy Manual outlines the requirements for conducting and reporting the results of a comprehensive literature search.


Save Time, Money & Effort

By examining the literature, you may discover that other laboratories have already worked on certain parts of your research project, making a duplicate experiment unnecessary. You may also discover alternative methods of animal care, animal treatment, or experimental design that require fewer or less expensive specimens.

Relevant Policies

USDA's Policy #11: Painful and Distressful Procedures

  • Policy #11 defines a painful procedure as "any procedure that would reasonably be expected to cause more than slight or momentary pain or distress in a human being to which that procedure is applied, that is, pain in excess of that caused by injections or other minor procedures." A few examples of painful/distressful procedures are listed on this page.

USDA's Policy #12: Consideration of Alternatives to Painful/Distressful Procedures

  • Policy #12 details the requirement of considering alternatives to painful and distressful procedures, recommending a database search as the most effective method to determine alternatives.

The Three Rs

Locating animal or procedural alternatives is integral to replacement, reduction and/or refinement to minimize animal pain and distress, consistent with research goals.


  • ways to reduce animal pain and/or distress within the study.


  • ways to reduce the number of animals that are used for the study.


  • ways to remove animals from the research to achieve scientific goals

Determining Potentially Painful Procedures

Before conducting your search, it is necessary to determine which procedures in the protocol have the potential to cause pain or distress.

This is not always a straightforward process; these resources can be a starting point for making those determinations.

Consult UC Merced Attending Veterinarian: Katherine Wasson Clark, DVM, PhD

Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals by the National Research Council (US) Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Pain in Laboratory Animals

  • Table 1-1 of this resource lists examples of painful procedures or conditions by type and anatomic location.

Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) Reducing Pain and Distress

  • A list of resources about pain management, alleviation, humane endpoints, and refinement techniques in various species.