I am looking to see if certain approved medications alter the life span of mice/rats.

I have noticed mice and rats aren't covered with legal protection for some reason https://awionline.org/content/rats-mice-birds

Does this mean my life expectancies test are legal?

3 Answers 3


The only applicable federal law is the Animal Welfare Act. Since you are presumably not operating under a federal research grant, and are not engaged in interstate trading of research animals, you are not subject to that law. That leaves you with state laws. An example is Washington's law on prevention of cruelty to animals. In general, you can't be cruel to an animal, but animal experiments are not per se animal cruelty. If you were a "research institution", you would be subject to RCW 16.52.220 which imposes certification and registration requirements on you and the animal suppliers. If an animal suffers pain from your experiments, you could be prosecuted for cruelty to animals, but that requires causing suffering "knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence".

  • 2
    Do you know of any specific country where my tests would be absolutely legal?
    – William
    Jul 25, 2018 at 21:02

In traditional research labs, all animal research requires IRB approval. The IRB certifies that, among other things, the animals are appropriately housed, the research is not excessively cruel, and that the suffering of the animals is justified given the nature of the research. For you it would be very difficult to receive IRB approval because, for instance, you must have a certified facility for keeping the animals that meets government regulations, which is prohibitively expensive to do for a private person. Without IRB approval, no journal will consider your research for publication, and you cannot go through any government process to, for instance, receive a patent for a treatment or license a drug.

If you don't care about any of this, and are motivated only by personal curiosity, in principle I don't think there is much stopping you from simply feeding some harmless medicines or food additives to your pet rats. For instance, people "experiment" on their pets all the time, such as trying different diets (like raw diets for dogs) and many pet medicines do not require prescriptions or permission from a vet. Of course if your rats suffer as a result of the testing, or if you knowingly administer drugs with harmful side effects, you may run afoul animal cruelty laws as they apply to pet ownership. I would still caution against this, I think it is unethical to endanger the well being of your pet for any reason.

However, I doubt your research will succeed. Testing on rats and mice is already difficult and costly, lifespan research is even harder due to very long period of experimentation. You also typically need a large number of animals to get meaningful results, due to substantial individual variation, even in very standardized lab conditions. Moreover, rats and mice are very different from humans, especially with regard to lifespan, so the applicability of your research to humans would be very dubious. You might be able to obtain some results that seem like they prove a hypothesis, but in reality they would be artifacts, because you have no way of adequately controlling for many confounds inherent in such work. Showing anything conclusively with mice and rats is a challenge even for top research labs with tremendous resources and experience.

And here comes the disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and this post is not legal advice. The information is provided for entertainment purposes only. Please do not go and start a rat experiment in your backyard because of what I said. Knowingly causing harm or suffering to your pets is unethical and immoral, and probably illegal as well. If you are interested in doing animal research, I would suggest you to get in touch with a lawyer or researcher with experience in this area.

  • 1
    Do you know of any specific country where my tests would be absolutely legal?
    – William
    Jul 25, 2018 at 22:42
  • @William It depends on how dangerous the testing is. As I said, if it doesn't cause extreme harm to the animal (such as cancer) then probably it will be legal in most places.
    – Consis
    Aug 24, 2018 at 1:43

State Laws

In addition to the Federal statute linked in the question, most if not all US states have their own animal cruelty statutes. In some places there are county or municipal statutes on this topic as well. I do not know of any country that has no such law, although I have not reviewed laws of all countries n this topic.


As an example, let us consider the law in Maryland.

subtitle 10 of the Maryland Criminal Code includesthe fllowig relevant sections:

§10–601 provides in relevant part:

(b) “Animal” means a living creature except a human being.

(c) (1) “Cruelty” means the unnecessary or unjustifiable physical pain or suffering caused or allowed by an act, omission, or neglect

10-602 provides:

It is the intent of the General Assembly that each animal in the State be protected from intentional cruelty, including
animals that are:

  • (1) privately owned;
  • (2) strays;
  • (3) domesticated;
  • (4) feral;
  • (5) farm animals;
  • (6) corporately or institutionally owned; or
  • (7) used in privately, locally, State, or federally funded scientific or medical activities.

Section 10-603"


Sections 10-601 through 10-608 of this subtitle do not apply to...

(2) research conducted in accordance with protocols approved by an animal care and use committee, as required under the federal Animal Welfare Act or the federal Health Research Extension Act

section 10–604 oprovides:

(a) A person may not: ...

(a) (3) inflict unnecessary suffering or pain on an animal

Section §10–615 provides that:

a) If an owner or custodian of an animal is convicted of an act of animal cruelty, the court may order the removal of the animal or any other animal at the time of conviction for the protection of the animal.

(b) (1) An officer or authorized agent of a humane society, or a police officer or other public official required to protect animals may seize an animal if necessary to protect the animal from cruelty.

< (2) (i) An animal that a medical and scientific research facility possesses may be removed under this subsection only after review by and a recommendation from the Maryland Department of Health, Center for Veterinary Public Health.

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