The Controversial Truth. Why Cats Are Used for Scientific Testing


Animal testing, also known as animal experimentation, animal research and in vivo testing, is the use of non-human animals in experiments and development projects, especially for purposes of determining the safety of substances such as foods or drugs. Animals are used to test a wide range of chemicals and products, from drugs to pesticides, vaccines, cosmetics, household cleaners, food additives and industrial and agricultural chemicals.

The practice of using animals for testing dates back to ancient Greece in the 3rd and 4th centuries BCE with Aristotle and Erasistratus among the first to perform experiments on living animals. However, large-scale testing on animals began in the 19th century. Today, animal testing remains a common practice around the world, despite increasing criticism and development of alternatives.

Medical Research

Cats have been used in medical and scientific research for many years. Some of the key areas of medical research involving cats include studies on infectious diseases, vaccines, anatomy and physiology, genetics, and medical procedures.[1]

Cats are often used in infectious disease research because their immune systems are similar to humans. For example, cats have been used to study feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) which is related to human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By studying FIV in cats, researchers have gained valuable insight into HIV treatments and vaccines.[2]

Cats have also been important for vaccine development. Kittens were vital in the development of the feline leukemia vaccine which has helped save the lives of millions of cats. Vaccines for rabies, feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), and other diseases have also relied on research involving cats.[3]

Anatomically, the cardiovascular and neurological systems of cats are analogous to humans. This makes cats useful for research on medical devices and procedures. Cats have been used to develop pacemakers, artificial valves, and surgical techniques still used in cardiothoracic surgery today.[4]

While humane practices are increasingly employed, some argue that more can be done to minimize invasive procedures and suffering. Continued progress in technology and computer modeling may provide alternatives to testing on cats in some cases. However there are still areas of critical medical research that rely on cats and likely will for the foreseeable future.




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Cosmetics Testing

Cats are commonly used to test cosmetics, personal care items, and household products. Companies test their products on cats to evaluate safety and toxicity before marketing them to consumers. According to an article from bartleby, “Imagine that your dogs or cats used for cosmetics testing. They are suffering in pain. The cosmetic company says this product is totally safe. Do you want to use the products if they did animal testing?” (Source). This demonstrates how cats are subjected to painful toxicity testing to evaluate cosmetic and personal care products.

Specifically, cats may be used to test eye and skin irritancy for products like mascara, lipstick, shampoo, lotion, and cleaning products. Their skin and eyes are exposed to chemicals over extended periods to look for adverse reactions like redness, swelling, ulceration, and blindness. Effects can be extremely painful for the cats. Though companies claim it’s necessary for consumer safety, many argue it’s unethical and inaccurate when applied to humans.

Additionally, cats may be force-fed chemicals or made to inhale sprays and aerosol products to evaluate oral and inhalation toxicity. They are also sometimes used for lethal dose testing which determines the dose of a chemical that causes death. All of this is done by cosmetics companies in the name of consumer safety, often at great suffering to the cats.

Food and Nutrition Testing

Cats are commonly used to test the palatability and nutritional value of pet food products. Pet food companies routinely conduct palatability tests by offering various food samples to a panel of cats and observing their eating preferences and behaviors ( This allows them to identify flavors and textures that cats find appealing.

Cats are also used in digestibility studies to determine how well nutrients in pet foods are utilized. By analyzing the food and fecal samples from cats fed test diets, researchers can calculate digestibility coefficients for various ingredients ( This information helps pet food manufacturers formulate nutritionally adequate products.

Some concerning findings regarding pet food nutrition and safety have emerged from independent lab testing. Analysis commissioned by consumers found multiple samples of cat food contained fungus, lead, arsenic and other contaminants ( This highlights the need for improved quality control and transparency from pet food companies.

Toxicity Testing

Cats are commonly used in toxicity testing of chemicals to determine their safety before they are used in products that will be handled by or applied to humans. Chemicals like pesticides, medications, and cosmetics ingredients are often tested on cats to analyze the effects of varying dosage levels.

According to the Human Society, cats may be force-fed or injected with chemicals for days, weeks, or months to look for signs of poisoning like vomiting, diarrhea, behavioral changes, and organ damage.[1] These toxicity tests help establish safety limits and warnings for chemical products. However, the HSUS argues they are often unreliable for predicting human toxicity.

Veterinary toxicology testing on pet cats can also analyze blood, urine, and tissue to diagnose poisoning from things like lead, antifreeze, or household chemicals. According to Gribbles Veterinary, these tests help identify toxic exposures when owners report symptoms like vomiting, neurological issues, or organ damage.[2]

While animal toxicity testing aims to protect human safety, ethical concerns remain about the suffering inflicted. Continued efforts to find non-animal alternatives may provide more accurate and humane ways to evaluate chemical hazards in the future.

Behavioral Research

Behavioral research on domestic cats has become increasingly important to understand the psychology and intelligence of felines. Studies have explored various aspects of cat behavior and cognition using cats as test subjects. According to a 2021 review, domestic cats remain “a largely understudied species in ethology and behavioral research” with many unanswered questions about their social behaviors, sensory abilities, problem-solving skills, and more (Turner, 2021).

Researchers have studied cat intelligence and cognitive abilities in areas like spatial navigation, memory, and learning. Cats have been tested in lab experiments on their understanding of object permanence, their ability to interpret human cues, and their capacity for social learning (PennToday, 2020). Studies have also analyzed cats’ sensory capacities, such as their advanced olfactory discrimination and their visual perception abilities.

Additionally, research on cat behavior has investigated bonding, attachment, personality, play, communication, and social relationships in felines. Scientists have studied the human-cat relationship and attachment bonds formed between cats and their owners. Research has also explored cats’ affiliative behaviors, individual personalities, and social dynamics within groups of cats (Merck Vet Manual).

While alternatives are used when possible, cats remain essential test subjects for understanding key aspects of feline psychology, intelligence, senses, and social behaviors that cannot be easily studied in other ways.

Education and Training

Cats are commonly used in education and training programs for veterinary and medical students. Shelter cats in particular are provided to veterinary schools to give students hands-on surgical experience and training in examination techniques, anesthesia, and other clinical skills ( For example, Virginia Tech veterinary students participate in a Summer Veterinary Student Research Program where they train shelter cats to walk in carriages, increasing their adoptability while developing the students’ handling skills (Virginia Tech news). Research shows that incorporating cats into veterinary curriculum through blended learning approaches enhances learning outcomes in areas like feline skills training while promoting the principles of reduction and refinement (Duijvestijn et al. 2022). The hands-on experience with live cats provides invaluable training for veterinary and medical students.

Alternatives to Testing on Cats

Thankfully, there are alternatives to testing on cats that can still fulfill research and testing needs. Technology and scientific innovation have led to the development of intelligent alternatives that avoid the ethical issues of testing on living animals.

Some of the most promising alternatives include:

  • Computer models and simulations – Sophisticated computer programs can simulate biological processes and drug interactions. These in silico models provide valuable data without harming any animals.

  • Organ-on-a-chip technology – Microfluidic devices contain human cells grown to simulate the functions of entire organs and organ systems. This provides a more accurate model than animal testing.

  • Cell and tissue cultures – Growing human and animal cells in a controlled lab environment enables a wide range of testing while avoiding the use of living animals.

  • Stem cell and genetic testing – Stem cells and organoids grown from stem cells give researchers the ability to study human systems without involving animals.

There are also non-animal training methods for veterinary and medical education, using lifelike robotic simulations and interactive computer programs instead of live animals. Continued progress and investment in innovative alternatives will likely produce even more useful and humane replacements for testing on cats and other animals.

Ethics and Welfare

When it comes to testing on cats, there are important ethical considerations regarding humane treatment and welfare. Many argue that animal testing raises serious moral issues, as it inflicts harm on living creatures that can feel pain and distress. However, others contend that animal testing is justified if it provides valuable knowledge to help treat human disease and improve human and animal health (Kiani et al., 2022).

Those against testing on cats cite concerns about unnecessary suffering, lack of consent, and using animals merely as means to human ends. They argue for the 3 R’s – replacing animal testing with alternative methods whenever possible, reducing the number of animals used, and refining procedures to minimize pain and distress (Ferdowsian, 2011). There are also worries about the humaneness of housing conditions, with calls for providing environmental enrichment.

Proponents contend regulations and institutional oversight committees ensure humane treatment and ethical standards. But critics point to undercover investigations uncovering animal welfare violations at testing facilities (PETA). This reveals continued need for transparency, accountability, and adherence to ethical guidelines for animal research.


In summary, cats are frequently tested on for a variety of reasons. The most common uses of cats in testing include medical and veterinary research to develop treatments for diseases, safety testing of chemicals and consumer products, behavioral and psychological research, and training of medical professionals. While alternatives such as computer models are sometimes able to replace the use of live cats, animal testing is still relied upon in many critical areas of research.

The key considerations around testing on cats include balancing scientific necessity, ethics, and animal welfare. There are regulations in place intended to minimize pain and suffering. However, animal advocacy groups argue that more can be done to advance non-animal alternatives. There are also debates around what types of research justify the use of animal subjects. Ultimately, the core purpose of testing on cats and other animals is to develop generalizable knowledge that can benefit humans, cats, and other species.

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