Research Involving Surgery

Investigators are required to provide IACUC with a complete description of any surgical procedures to be performed. Defined as any procedure that exposes tissues normally covered by skin or mucosa, experimental surgery has significant potential for causing pain or distress to animals if not performed properly.

Procedures can result in pain, tissue damage, and post-operative infection. Therefore stringent guidelines for training, surgical facilities, asepsis, surgical preparation, anesthesia, analgesia, surgical technique, and post-operative monitoring have been established in conjunction with RAR. (see RAR Surgery Information)

RAR veterinarians can provide additional training in surgical techniques, preparation of the animal, use of anesthetics and analgesics, and appropriate consideration of the use of pre- and post-operative antibiotics. (see RAR contacts)

Surgery Categories & Clarification of Terms

Surgeries may be categorized as one or more of the following:

Major Surgery

Procedure penetrates and exposes a body cavity (thorax, abdomen, calvarium), or produces substantial impairment of physical or physiological functions (e.g. orthopedic procedures, extensive cannulation, laparotomy, craniotomy, limb amputation).

Minor Surgery

Procedure does not expose a body cavity and causes little or no physical impairment (e.g. peripheral vessel cannulations, skin incisions, wound suturing, castration).

Nonsurvival Surgery

Animal is euthanized prior to recovering from anesthesia. Asepsis and sterility are not required for nonsurvival procedures, unless the procedures are of sufficient duration to allow bacterial infections to affect the outcome of the study.

Survival Surgery

In the absence of complications, the animal is expected to recover from anesthesia following the procedure. Aseptic technique must be used with all animals.

Multiple-Survival Surgery

Performing more than one major survival surgery on a single animal. Multiple surgical procedures on a single surviving animal are not permitted unless they are essential components of the same project. This practice is evaluated on a case-by-case basis by IACUC and substantial justification for the protocol must be provided. Cost savings alone is not an adequate reason for performing multiple surgical procedures on an animal.

Location Criteria for Surgery Categories

Surgery Category

Criteria for Location of Surgery

Major survival surgery in nonrodents/mammals

must be performed in an approved, dedicated suite that includes separate areas for induction, surgery, and recovery

Nonsurvival surgery, minor surgery, or rodent/nonmammal surgery

may be performed in a dedicated work area. This may be an individual room or clean laboratory bench-top.

If surgery will be performed on large mammals 
(e.g. rabbits, dogs, pigs, primates)

investigators should consult with RAR veterinarians to determine that all surgical criteria for a particular species are met

Guidelines for the Limited Use of Expired Medical Materials

Expired medical materials such as drugs, fluids, and sutures may not be used on any research animal who is not anesthetized or who is to recover from an anesthetic procedure.

  • It is never acceptable to use outdated anesthetics, analgesics, or emergency drugs.
  • Examples of acceptable expired materials include IV fluid solutions, nonemergency drugs (diuretics, contrast material, antibiotics), IV catheters, bandage materials, surgery gloves, and suture materials.
  • Expired materials are only to be used on anesthetized animals in terminal studies (e.g. studies from which the animal does not awaken). Anesthesia for these terminal studies must be induced and maintained using current, nonexpired drugs.
  • All expired materials must be clearly and individually labeled as “Expired—for acute use only” and kept together in a labeled area physically separate from all other medical materials and drugs.

Post-Operative Care

Regulations require adequate post-operative care to ensure full recovery and minimization of pain and distress.

Post-procedural care for dogs, cats, swine, sheep, and goats is provided by RAR. Post-procedural care for other animals (e.g. small mammals/amphibians/fish, nonhuman primates, and in some circumstances sheep) may be provided either by RAR or by the investigator under RAR supervision.

Post-procedural care includes monitoring anesthetic recovery, monitoring post-procedural complications, providing analgesia for any procedures with potential for pain or distress, administering antibiotics to prevent post-procedural infections, and maintaining records of the surgical procedure and follow-up care given.

Post-operative records are required by the USDA on all animals except rats, mice, and birds.

Records must be accessible for inspection. Records on rats, mice, and birds may be somewhat abbreviated and in composite format and can be included as part of research data collected, but should also be available for review.

See RAR's Post-Operative Care Program.