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Searching for Animal Alternatives: Search Tips & Terminology

"Alternative searches are required for all animal use protocols causing pain or distress to animal subjects." USDA Animal Care Policy Manual #12.

Questions about this guide?

Contact Gordon Roble, DVM, DACLAM
Associate Director - Comparative Medicine

The Three Rs

Searching for alternatives means looking for ways to...

Refine: employ techniques that reduce pain and distress

Reduce: minimize the number of animals used

Replace: substitute animal with nonanimal methods or lower organisms

"...the performance of a database search remains the most effective and efficient method for demonstrating compliance with the requirement to consider alternatives to painful/distressful procedures."

The database search narrative must, at a minimum, include:

  • Names of the databases/web sites searched
  • Date the search was performed
  • Period covered by the search
  • Key words and/or the search strategy used

Examples of Alternative Search Terminology


• alternative • animal testing alternative • assay • distress • euthanasia • learn • learning • method • model • pain • replace • replacement • surrogate • system • teach • teaching • technique


• aided/assisted • artificial • cadaver • computers • image • imaging • instruction • interactive • mathematical model(ing) • model(ing) • prediction • simulation • software • teaching • theoretical model(ing) • virtual


• statistics • stastical combined with • analysis • experimental design • model • reduce • reduction


• distress • (non-)invasive • pain • postoperative • postsurgery • stress• anaethesia • anaesthetic • analgesia • analgesic • anxiolytic • sedative• animal combined with • cage • caging • euthanaia • housing • husbandry • welfare

Search Tips

Preplan write out terms, synonyms, and list which databases to search

Determine general area of study/research topic

Description of the procedure being used and why

Which organ systems are involved

List of drugs or chemicals being used

Choose animal species/animal model

Truncate works with the same stem (sulph* will retrieve sulphuric, sulphurous, sulphate, etc)

Start with single concepts, combine using AND to refine the result set

Limit to particular time period can also help refine the set if it is too big

Use OR when the search set is too narrow (rats OR rodents)

Use OR to look for term variants (mice OR mouse OR murine)

Remember American & British spellings can be different (behavior, behaviour)


FHCRC Get ArticleHart LA, Wood MW and Weng, H-Y. "Effective searching of the scientific literature for alternatives: search grids for appropriate databases." Animal Welfare. 2005 (14) 287-289.

FHCRC Get ArticleSmith AJ and Allen T. "The use of databases, information centres and guidelines when planning research that may involve animals." Animal Welfare. 2005 (14) 347-359.