Over the past decade or so, Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine has moved away from conventional protocols in the use of animals in our veterinary student teaching program (e.g., in anatomy, surgery and clinical skills courses), to alternative ones. Our curriculum has evolved to reflect evaluations by our clinicians and graduates about various teaching methods, availability of new teaching resources, the results of research about the merits of different methods of teaching, as well as the evolution of thought within the profession and society regarding the ethical use of healthy animals for veterinary education.
In order to supply cadavers for the anatomy laboratories in the first year, Tufts University has established a client cadaver donation program whereby clients of the teaching hospital who are faced with euthanatizing their dogs and cats for medical reasons may elect to donate their pet for veterinary student training. This groundbreaking program benefits clients as well as students. Students are provided with the case record, so they can begin to integrate clinical material with didactic learning at the earliest possible time in their training. They are reminded, through use of a loved, client-donated pet, of the importance and strength of the human-animal bond. Clients who choose to participate in the donation program have the satisfaction of knowing that their thoughtfulness will help train a future generation of caregivers. All dogs cats used for anatomy training have been obtained through the client donation program since 1997. Small numbers of other species used for anatomy training are acquired from a variety of sources. They are all destined for euthanasia or slaughter locally. A board-certified anesthesiologist performs the sedation and euthanasia prior to embalming for the laboratory. Currently, one cow and one pig are prepared as prosections for all students to study; goats are dissected by small groups of students.
With the elimination of terminal small animal surgery elective laboratories a few years ago, we completed a transition of our veterinary medical curriculum to one that strongly encourages that healthy animals involved in the teaching program not be subjected to invasive or terminal procedures. This program was a first for a US veterinary school. Healthy animals are still used for teaching a wide variety of clinical skills, including physical examination, restraint, medication techniques for a wide variety of species. Whenever possible, clinical procedures (e.g., abdominocentesis, catheterization of the urinary bladder, transtracheal wash, passage of a nasogastric tube, irrigation of the nasolacrimal duct, and upper airway endoscopy) are performed or demonstrated on client-owned animals as part of normal clinical workup. However, if the clinical case load is slow, then these procedures may be performed or demonstrated on horses in the TUSVM teaching herd. Third year students gain large animal surgery experience by performing an omentopexy in an elective bovine surgery course. The surgery is performed on owner-leased heifers with the owner's consent and approval. This surgery is not commonly performed as a preventive measure in most practices, but it does help prevent future digestive problems. Students also are taught to perform common farm animal husbandry procedures, some of which are invasive. Further, there are occasional laboratories in which animals destined for euthanasia after being in a research protocol, or during which large animals selected for cull and slaughter are anesthetized and subjected to procedures, after which they are euthanatized while still under anesthesia.