Each year, thousands of cats are used for research, teaching and testing in the United States. This is particularly troublesome, given that cats are cherished companion animals and family members in so many households across the world.
Fortunately, we are seeing some positive changes with respect to cat research, which will help spare the lives of some animals.
Earlier this month, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Research Center (ARS) announced—due in no small part to the work of animal advocates like you all around the country—that its toxoplasmosis studies previously conducted in cats were “redirected and the use of cats as part of any research protocol in any ARS laboratory has been discontinued and will not be reinstated.”
The agency had been investigating the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, one which causes toxoplasmosis, a disease which is a leading cause of death from foodborne illness in the U.S. They relied on kittens to perform these studies. Two-month old kittens were fed raw meat with the parasite, and the animals were put down once the parasite completed its life cycle and infected feces from the animals was obtained. Nearly 3000 animals had been used in these experiments since 1982.
Last spring, the USDA began assessing this research and whether they would be able to adopt out the cats used in the procedures. While a panel charged with determining the safety of adopting out the cats used in the research agreed that the animals previously infected with the parasite should not be adopted out because of the risk they posed to human health (a controversial recommendation, given that there is a treatment for this condition), they did recommend that uninfected cats should be made available for adoption. The USDA is in the process of finding homes for these animals.
Importantly, the agency also indicated that the toxoplasmosis research that the ARS conducted had concluded, and that the use of cats as part of any research protocol in any ARS laboratory was discontinued and would not be reinstated.
NAVS applauds the decision to discontinue the use of cats in this line of research and is excited about other developments which may impact even more animals. But there is more that can—and should—be done.
The Kittens in Traumatic Testing Ends Now (KITTEN) Act, which directs the Secretary of Agriculture to end the use of cats by the USDA for experiments that cause pain or stress to the animals, has recently been reintroduced! This legislation would amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit USDA research facilities from purchasing, breeding, transporting, housing, feeding, maintaining, disposing of or experimenting on cats as part of any study—not just toxoplasmosis research—that would cause potential pain or stress to cats.
Animal advocates like you helped secure this victory for cats. Now let’s take it further. Please contact your U.S. Senators and Representative to urge them to support the KITTEN Act and end ALL cat use by the USDA!
USDA. “ARS Announces Toxoplasmosis Research Review, Discontinues Research with Cats,” April 2019.
Jacobo, J. “USDA ceases experiments on kittens for food safety research” ABC News. April 2, 2019