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Major vs. Minor Surgery

Both the Animal Welfare Act and the Department of Health and Human Services have written, minimum "standards" for providing care before, during and after surgical procedures. A project that involves more than momentary or slight pain or distress must involve the veterinarian, in the planning stage!

The University Animal Welfare Committee (UAWC) is responsible for supervising the use of animals at the institution and has authorized the attending veterinarian to oversee all surgical procedures. The veterinarian must have access to animals and ensure that daily observations of the animals are performed by qualified individuals. There must be routine inspections of sites where surgical procedures are conducted. The UAWC is required to stop any research project wherein non-compliance is suspected.

Surgical Personnel
Surgical support personnel from the Office of Veterinary Resources (OVR) are available to assist research staff. The charge for this service is nominal when compared to the cost of hiring research support staff. The exact makeup of a particular surgical team is a decision made by the principle investigator in consultation with the attending veterinarian. The UAWC must approve the list of personnel before the research project may begin and investigators must notify the UAWC as new personnel are added to the project.

What is meant by Major Surgery?
Any surgical intervention that penetrates and exposes a body cavity; any procedure that has the potential for inducing permanent anatomic (physical) or physiologic impairment and/or any procedure associated with orthopedics or extensive tissue dissection or transection.

Major survival surgery for non-rodent mammals such as rabbits or nonhuman primates, must be performed in dedicated facilities specifically designed, operated, and maintained for that purpose. Cold-blooded vertebrate and rodent surgeries may be performed aseptically in a clean, non-dedicated room or laboratory. Surgical procedures on wild animals, both major and minor may be performed in the field but aseptic principles must be followed. The UAWC determines the appropriate site for specific operative procedures.

What is meant by Minor Surgery?
A minor surgical procedure is one that neither penetrates or exposes a body cavity, nor induces permanent impairment of physical or physiologic function. Examples are laparoscopy, superficial vascular cutdown, and percutaneous biopsy. A dedicated surgical facility is not required for such procedures, however, the surgical area should be clean and aseptic techniques must be observed. There is no prohibition against multiple minor survival procedures. Good professional judgment should be used to limit the number of minor surgical procedures performed on a single animal.

Are multiple major survival surgeries permitted by animal welfare laws?
Use of one animal in multiple major survival surgeries is allowed only when such procedures are related components of a protocol; they must be scientifically justified in the protocol and approved by the UAWC. Cost savings is not an acceptable justification for multiple major survival surgeries on any animal. Determination that a procedure constitutes major surgery is usually made during the UAWC review process. However, development of "permanent physical or physiologic impairment" may not be recognized until after the procedure is performed. If such impairment develops after a surgery, that animal cannot be used for another recovery procedure. If the second major procedure is non-survival, this is not considered to be multiple major survival surgery.

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