Search for Alternatives

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations require that principal investigators consider alternatives to procedures involving animals that will avoid or minimize discomfort, pain, and distress. Furthermore, principal investigators are required to provide a written narrative of the methods used and sources consulted to determine the availability of alternatives.


A fundamental goal of the AWA and accompanying regulations is the minimization of animal pain and distress through the consideration of alternatives without compromising research goals using the 3 Rs. The 3 Rs include replacement with non-animal systems or less sentient animal species, reduction in the number of animals necessary to obtain scientifically valid data, or refinement of techniques used to decrease or eliminate pain.


Alternatives should be considered in the preparation and review of the animal use protocol.  A search for alternatives is required at the time a new proposal is submitted and at the three-year renewal for any protocol that has a Category D or E procedure.

Regulations state that any proposed animal activity or significant changes to ongoing animal activity must meet the following requirements:

  • A rationale for using animals, the appropriate species, and number to be used
  • A description of procedures and methods that would guarantee discomfort and pain to the animals is minimal and inevitable
  • A description of all analgesics, anesthetics, and tranquilizers with dosage and locations of administration
  • A written assurance that procedures and methods do not unnecessarily duplicate previous experiments
  • A written narrative description of methods and sources used to consider alternatives to procedures that may cause more than momentary or slight pain or distress

Database searches remain the most effective and efficient method for demonstrating compliance with the requirement to consider alternatives to painful and distressful procedures. When conducting a database search, a narrative must include:

  • Names of databases searched
  • Dates the searches were done
  • Periods covered by the search
  • Key words or strategies used to conduct the search
  • If alternatives were identified, justification of why these methods are not used

For additional information on resources for alternatives in the care and use of animals, please visit the sites below:

  • The Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) is an information service of the National Agricultural Library specifically established to provide information about alternatives. AWIC offers expertise in formulation of the search strategy and selection of keywords and databases, access to unique databases, on- and off-site training of institute personnel in conducting effective alternatives searches, and is able to perform no-cost or low-cost electronic database searches. AWIC can be contacted via email at
  • Altweb, a site devoted to replacement, reduction, and refinement alternatives for research and testing, is maintained by the John Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT).
  • The Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare (OLAW) is responsible for the administration and implementation of the PHS Policy on Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals.
  • The University of California Center for Animal Alternatives (UCCAA)

BU IACUC Revised January 2014