More thoughts on animal research: Pets and wild animals benefit, too

Every year people adopt pet dogs, cats, birds, and other creatures and take them to their local veterinarians for all the usual vaccinations and exams. The usual vaccinations protect your pets from diseases like rabies, distemper, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, and Feline Leukemia. But it's not just pets that get protected by vaccines. Agricultural creatures: fish, chickens, sheep, cows, pigs, and horses receive vaccines and increasingly, wild animals are getting vaccinated, too.

i-f37b4107c9e6037ac26a31a490092ccd-racoon.jpg One example comes from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. They are looking at ways to protect wild gorillas from Ebola virus. In addition to the many challenges that wild gorillas face, the center claims that Ebola virus has killed about a third of the gorillas in protected areas during the last 15 years (1). Another example comes from Europe, where they vaccinate wild foxes against rabies in several different countries (2). In the United States, we're vaccinating raccoons against rabies, in New York (3), investigating the possibility of vaccinating mice against Lyme disease (4), and looking at ways to vaccinate bison and elk against Brucellosis (5, 6).

It is true that many of wild-animal vaccine campaigns are driven from a desire to protect humans or agricultural animals. Rabies is a scary disease and no one wants to be attacked by a rabid raccoon. (If you want to know what that's like, This American Life has a first-hand account in their program archives. It costs 0.95$ to download but it's well worth it.)

The drive to vaccinate bison and elk against Brucellosis is driven by the desire to protect domestic bison, cattle, and humans. In cattle, infections with Brucella abortus damage overall health and can cause cows to abort their offspring. If people consume unpasteurized milk or cheese made from animal products, they can be infected, too. The symptoms of Brucellosis are fever, sweats, headaches, back pains, and physical weakness. These infections are not common in the U.S., and the Brucella bacteria have been eliminated from domestic cattle (in the U.S.), however, these bacteria do appear in wild animals, generating concern that cattle could acquire the disease from wild bison or elk. (7)

What do these cases have to do with animal research? In the United States, animal vaccines are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Center for Veterinary Biologics (CVB). Like the vaccines produced for humans, the vaccines produced for animals must be pure, potent, safe, and they must work. This means that all the vaccines that are given to your pets, agricultural animals, and wild animals were tested on lab animals to make sure that the vaccines are safe and that they work.


  1. Efficient Wildlife Disease Control: From Social Network Self-organization to Optimal Vaccination, accessed Aug. 13th, 2008.
  2. Hostnik, P. et. al. 2006. Control of Rabies in Slovenia, Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 42(2), pp. 459-465.
  3. Wildlife Rabies Vaccination Project fact sheet. New York State Department of Health.
  4. Broad-based Vaccination Of Wild Mice Could Help Reduce Lyme Disease Risk In Humans. ScienceDaily
  5. Louis Pons, Scientists "Go Ballistic"Against Brucellosis.
  6. Roffe, T. et. al. 2004. Efficacy of single calfhood vaccination of elk with Brucella abortus STRAIN 19, Journal of Wildlife Management, pp 830-836.
  7. Brucellosis, General Information, 2008. Brucellosis fact sheet, Centers for Disease Control.

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Excellent points all, nice post, Sandy! I wasn't aware of the extent to which wild animals were being vaccinated. Just about everyone knows somebody who either had a dog require some sort of surgical intervention or a cat with mysterious viral infections or cancers or whatnot. Sometimes the synergy is near perfect, FIV for example has been a major model for HIV/AIDS.

It's a point that needs to be made more often Sandy. Indeed the commonalities between human and animal disease have lead the American Veterinary Medical Association to champion a "One Health" approach to disease

The traffic isn't entirely one way either, a recent article on Eureka! highlights how a test for iron overload developed for humans has been adapted for use on monkeys…

Good on Ya!

The debate needs reframing. It's not about whether animal research is "right" or "wrong" but rather that there are right ways to do it and wrong ways to do it.

There are also right and wrong ways to deal with unethical researchers. Law enforcement and the revocation of licenses is the right way.

Terrorism aimed at researchers is the wrong way.

I agree with you Yogi-One, but those sentiments aren't shared by everyone, as you can see from the comments on this post.

David and DrugMonkey: thanks for your comments. Vaccinating wild animals is much more common than I realized, too. I completely forgot to add the efforts to vaccinate wild deer against bovine tuberculosis and wild skunks against rabies. Fish and game departments are also using vaccines as contraceptives to control the size of wild animal populations. My post just scratches the surface.

Concerning buffalo, brucellosis, cattle, and vaccinations, a few salient points should be taken into consideration.

First of all there has never been an infection from buffalo to cattle,....just doesn't happen. And the exposure of buffalo to cattle that were infected only served to give the buffalo an immunity to the disease...didn't infect them.

Before a vaccination program gets too far along with the planning stages, someone should develop an effective vaccine to be used. Present vaccines are about 60% effective.

And lastly, someone should start figuring that a bunch of cattlemen, with opposing interests to the well being of buffalo, aren't the ones to be managing them.

"Reason why cowboys wear boots?"

Ever try to teach one how to tie his shoes?
(or anything else, for that matter?)