Here we provide information on blood sampling from common laboratory animal species. The information is intended to help laboratory staff choose the most appropriate technique for blood sampling in a humane and efficient manner. The original material was collated by GlaxoSmithKline and donated to the NC3Rs. It has been edited and expanded with assistance from colleagues from the Institute of Animal Technology, academia, industry and animal welfare organisations.
For advice on microsampling in the pharmaceutical and chemicals industries, visit our microsampling resource.
Taking blood samples from laboratory animals
Taking a blood sample is one of the most common procedures performed on laboratory animals, used for example;
- For analysis of biochemical, metabolic, toxicological or immunological parameters.
- For examination or culture of micro-organisms.
- For production of antibodies.
Using a technique appropriate for the purpose and the species, performed by a trained and competent member of staff, is essential to ensure that any pain, distress or discomfort is kept to a minimum. Avoiding adverse effects is important for scientific as well as ethical and legal reasons, as they can cause biological changes which may affect the blood sample and hence the validity and reproducibility of the research results.
These pages contain information on surgical, non-surgical and terminal methods of blood sampling including venepuncture, arterial puncture, cannulation, cardiac puncture and decapitation, as appropriate for the species. They assist with refinement by:
Setting out general principles for refinement of blood sampling - we advise that these should be read first.
Highlighting advantages and disadvantages for most of the available techniques.
Highlighting potential adverse effects and control measures.
Collating references for further reading.
Presenting images and video for training purposes.
Presenting information on safe blood sample volumes.
Providing information on refinement of the use of vascular catheters.
Choice of technique
The choice of technique will depend on a range of factors, including:
- The purpose of the blood collection.
- The need for an arterial versus venous sample.
- The duration and frequency of sampling.
- The impact on animal welfare.
- The health status of the animal being bled.
- Whether the sample is taken as part of, or as a, terminal procedure.
- The potential for stress-induced effects on biochemical and haematological parameters.
- The training and experience of the staff involved.
Inclusion of a particular technique held within these pages should not be seen as endorsement of its use by the NC3Rs. In the UK, it is for individual researchers, in conjunction with the Home Office Inspector, NVS, NACWO and other members of the institutional Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body to decide the most appropriate site, volume and frequency of blood sampling, and for these to be detailed in the project licence.
Blood sampling in:
- For information on automated blood sampling and the 3Rs, see the article by Holmberg and Pelletier
- Blood sampling from large animals (e.g. dogs) for DNA collection can be avoided with Oragene-ANIMAL from DNA Genotek, Inc. DNA is collected non-invasively via a sponge that absorbs saliva in the mouth.
- We welcome your views on the blood sampling pages on this site, so that the area can be expanded and improved. Please send any comments to email@example.com
Resources and references
- DIGIRES (2005), Digital Resources for Veterinary Trainers
- A good practice guide to the administration of substances and removal of blood, including routes and volumes
- Biological effects of blood loss: implications for sampling volumes and techniques
- Removal of blood from laboratory animals and birds (PDF 131KB)