AAVMC releases handbook for animal utilization in veterinary anatomy education


The handbook provides recommendations on how to implement alternatives to cadaveric dissection, promoting animal welfare and ethics

Contributing to the development of veterinary anatomy education and its approaches, the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges’ (AAVMC) Task Force for the Use of Animals in Veterinary Education created the “AAVMC Handbook on the Use of Animals in Education.” According to the AAVMC, the handbook seeks to help advance developments in veterinary anatomy education by promoting effective animal alternatives and animal welfare and ethics, as well as the safety of veterinary students and the animals involved in their learning process.1

“The task force sought to create guidelines, recommendations, and methods that would be aspirational for most veterinary colleges but not out of reach,” Julie A. Hunt, associate dean of clinical sciences at Lincoln Memorial University Richard A. Gillespie College of Veterinary Medicine, and chair of the task force, said in a release by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).1 “Animal ethics also vary geographically, and the task force had to consider how to create guidelines and a handbook that would be relevant to all AVMA-accredited veterinary colleges worldwide.”

 (Photo courtesy of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges)

AAVMC Use of Animals in Veterinary Education Handbook. (Photo courtesy of the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges)

The handbook provides veterinary colleges with recommendations on how to implement alternatives to cadaveric dissection, source cadavers ethically, decrease reliance on institutionally owned animals for preclinical education, and utilize animal models or simulators for teaching clinical skills.1 According to 2023 survey with 20 North American veterinary schools as the participants, there is variation in the use of live animals for teaching anatomy.1 Some respondents reported incorporating both small and large live animals as a supplementary to anatomy education, while others utilized either small or large animals, but not both. Other veterinary schools indicated that they did not use live animals for teaching purposes.

“Many people believe that anatomy must be taught primarily through cadaveric dissection,” said Hunt.1 “However, ethical concerns have been raised about the sourcing and traceability of cadavers. I think that the chapters relating to cadavers and anatomy teaching are critically important and offer an updated approach to teaching anatomy and acquiring cadavers in an ethically acceptable manner.”

According to the handbook, “there is a growing volume of work and research that suggests that cadavers do not need to be used to achieve sound anatomical learning. As a result, many medical education institutions take a blended approach to teaching medical anatomy, using a variety of techniques, and often utilizing both cadavers and digital learning environments to support their healthcare students’ learning… In recent years, many medical schools have moved away from cadaveric dissection, utilizing prosections and plastinated specimens instead, or have stopped using cadavers completely.”2

In Chapter 2, the handbook discusses advancements in technology to support teaching. These include realistic 3D models; high tech platforms; videoconferencing; augmented reality; and virtual reality (VR), including virtual dissection tables and fully immersive experiences via VR headsets.2

The creation of the handbook came after the AAVMC published their "Guidelines for the Use of Animals in Veterinary Education," in October 2022.1 The guidelines aim to assist AAVMC member institutions in enhancing their policies on animal use, promoting the adoption of animal alternatives, and fostering transparency. Both the guidelines and the handbook are applicable to preveterinary and veterinary technology programs.1 Yet, the AAVMC soon realized additional information on implementing the guidelines was necessary.

“While the Guidelines provided overarching principles and broad recommendations, the next step was to write a handbook to accompany the Guidelines, elaborating on how institutions could implement the Guideline’s recommendations, enabling them to support and promote humane and ethical animal use, guided by the 4 Rs: replacement, reduction, refinement, and respect,” according to the handbook’s abstract.1,2

Speaking on the concern that incorporating models into clinical skills training diminishes the skills learned from live animal practice and doubts about the transferability of skills learned on models, Hunt explained, “the aim is not to eliminate the use of live animals in veterinary education. The goal is to optimize the animal ethics associated with veterinary training.”1


  1. AAVMC publishes handbook for use of animals in veterinary education. American Veterinary Medical Association. June 18, 2024. Accessed June 19, 2024. https://www.avma.org/news/aavmc-publishes-handbook-use-animals-veterinary-education
  2. Hunt JA, Delcambre J, Baillie S. AAVMC Task Force on the use of animals in veterinary education. American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges. 2024. https://doi.org/10.35542/osf.io/5k894
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