Comparative Studies of Animal and Non-Animal Methods in Teaching

One perspective in favour of using animals or animal-derived tissues or organs in teaching suggests that the use of animals in teaching provides a “hands on” learning experience that is difficult to replicate with non-animal methods, and therefore the use of non-animal alternatives do not adequately meet the desired learning outcomes. On the other hand the use of animals may make students uncomfortable or emotional, which would negatively impact their learning. In addition, the use of animals is typically one time only, whereas non-animal alternatives provide the ability to repeat certain exercises to consolidate learning.

A literature review was carried out to explore studies that have compared the teaching efficacy of animal versus non-animal teaching methods. The results of the studies reviewed are summarized in the table below and citations provided. If you know of additional studies, please submit using our contact form.

Summary Data

Study Category Number of Studies
A. Superior efficacy of non-animal teaching methods 19
B. Equivalent teaching efficacy of animal and non-animal teaching methods 27
C. Superior efficacy of animal teaching methods 4

Studies demonstrating superior efficacy of non-animal teaching methods

A1. Abutarbush Sameeh M, Naylor JM., Parchoma G, D’Eon M, Petrie L and Carruthers T (2006) Evaluation of traditional instruction versus a self-learning computer module in teaching veterinary students how to pass a nasogastric tube in the horse. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education 33(3): 447-54.

Students in the computer module group performed significantly better on the test of knowledge than traditionally instructed students. In hands-on skill, time to pass the NG tube successfully was significantly shorter in the SLCM group than in the traditionally instructed group. The questionnaire found significant preference for the computer-based module, better learning, and greater preparedness.

A2. Erickson HH and Clegg VL (1993) Active learning in cardiovascular physiology. Pp. 107-108 in Modell HI and Michael JA (editors). Promoting Active Learning in the Life Science Classroom. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences Vol. 701. New York, NY.

Of fourteen learning methods for basic cardiac teaching and ECG interpretation, computer-based active learning was rated the highest in veterinary student evaluations.

A3. Fowler HS and Brosius EJ (1968) A research study on the values gained from dissection of animals in secondary school biology. Science Education 52(2): 55–57.

High school students who watched films of animal dissections (earthworm, crayfish, frog, perch) demonstrated greater factual knowledge of these animals than did students who performed dissections on them.

A4. Griffon DG, Cronin P, Kirby B and Cottrell DF (2000) Evaluation of a Hemostasis Model for Teaching Ovariohysterectomy in Veterinary Surgery. Veterinary Surgery 29: 309- 316.

Veterinary students who practiced ovariohysterectomy on an inanimate canine replica scored higher on skills tests and showed more improvement than students who practiced on cadavers.

A5. Henman MC, and Leach GDH (1983) An alternative method for pharmacology laboratory class instruction using biovideograph videotape recordings. British Journal of Pharmacology, 80: 591.

Undergraduate pharmacology students using biovideograph performed significantly better on post-laboratory tests than those participating in the organ-based laboratories.

A6. Huang SD and Aloi J (1991) The impact of using interactive video in teaching general biology. The American Biology Teacher, 53: 281-284.

Biology undergraduate students using a computer-assisted interactive videodisc system which included dissection simulations performed significantly better than students who had not used the computer-aided instruction.

A7. Hughes IE (2001) Do computer simulations of laboratory practicals meet learning needs? Trends in Pharmacological Sciences, 22(2): 71-74.

In each study the assessed performance of the students who did the simulated experiment was significantly better than that of the students who did the ‘wet’ practical.

A8. Johnson AL and Farmer JA (1989) Evaluation of traditional and alternative models in psychomotor laboratories for veterinary surgery. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 16(1): 11–14.

Inanimate models effectively taught basic psychomotor skills, and had the advantage over live animals that they could be used repeatedly, enhancing the acquisition of motor proficiency.

A9. Lilienfield LS and Broering NC (1994) Computers as teachers: learning from animations. American Journal of Physiology, 11(1): S47–S54.

Medical and graduate students who used computer simulation achieved a significantly higher grade in the cardiovascular section of the final exam than their classmates.

A10. McCollum TL (1987) The effect of animal dissections on student acquisition of knowledge of and attitudes toward the animals dissected. Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, University of Cincinnati. Abstract available at:

Approximately 175 high school biology students taught frog structure, function, and adaptation via lecture performed better on a post-test than did approximately 175 high school biology students taught by doing a frog dissection.

A11. More D and Ralph, C. L. (1992). A test of effectiveness of courseware in a college biology class. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 21(1): 79-84.

Biology knowledge of about 92 undergraduate biology students using computer courseware increased more than did that of approximately 92 students using traditional animal-based laboratories.

A12. Motoike HK, O’Kane RL, Lenchner E and Haspel C (2009). Clay modeling as a method to learn human muscles: A community college study. Anatomical Sciences Education, 2(1): 19-23.

The 181 students in 10 sections in this study were randomly distributed into control (cat dissection) and experimental (clay modeling) groups, and the results of the muscle practical examination were analyzed. The clay-modeling group was significantly better at identifying human muscles on human models than the cat-dissection group, and was as good at identifying muscles on their self-made clay mannequins as the cat-dissection group was at identifying cat muscle on their specimens. This study demonstrated that clay modeling is more effective than cat dissection for learning human muscles at the community college level.

A13. Olsen D, Bauer MS, Seim HB, Salman MD (1996) Evaluation of a hemostasis model for teaching basic surgical skills. Veterinary Surgery, 25(1): 49-58.

In a comparison between the effectiveness of the fluid hemostasis model compared with using live animals for teaching basic skills involved in blood vessel ligation and division, the model group had a lower number of errors and lower time to complete exercises; more students in the model group tied square knots and tight ligatures, and instrument grip was rated better for the model group.

A14. Phelps, J. L., Nilsestuen, J. O., & Hosemann, S. (1992). Assessment of effectiveness of videodisc replacement of a live-animal physiology laboratory. Distinguished Papers Monograph, Amer. Association for Respiratory Care.

Nursing students who studied using an interactive video program on cardiac output principles performed better on a post-test than did students taught by lecture and live animal physiology laboratory.

A15. Predavec M (2001) Evaluation of E-Rat, a computer-based rat dissection, in terms of student learning outcomes. Journal of Biological Education, 35(2): 75-80.

First-year undergraduate students taught rat anatomy via computer-based instruction scored higher on average than students taught using conventional dissection, regardless of how much time each student spent on the class.

A16. Samsel RW, Schmidt GA, Hall JB, Wood LDH, Shroff SG and Schumacker PT (1994) Cardiovascular physiology teaching: computer simulations vs. animal demonstrations. Advances in Physiology Education, 11: S36–S46.

Medical students used both computer demonstrations and animal (dog) demonstrations, and rated the former higher for learning cardiovascular physiology.

A17. Waters JR, Van Meter P, Perrotti W, Drogo S and Cyr RJ (2005) Cat dissection vs. sculpting human structures in clay: an analysis of two approaches to undergraduate human anatomy laboratory education. Advances in Physiology Education, 29(1): 27-34.

Undergraduate students who learned human anatomy by building clay sculptures of each human body system scored significantly higher on both low- and high-difficulty questions than their classmates who performed cat dissections.

A18. Youngblut C (2001) Use of multimedia technology to provide solutions to existing curriculum problems: Virtual frog dissection. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, George Mason University. Abstract available at:……..42Y.

Multimedia-based virtual dissection was more effective than hands-on dissection in helping pre- college students learn about frog anatomy. Students using the virtual program achieved this result in 44% less time than their peers who used animal dissection.

A19. Yuza, S. C. (2010). Science Laboratory Depth of Learning: Interactive Multimedia Simulation and Virtual Dissection Software. ProQuest LLC. Abstract available at:

Statistical findings showed significant differences between participants in their depth of learning after utilizing virtual dissection software. These results indicate that participants changed their depth of learning after completing simulation and virtual dissection software when compared to “wet” laboratories learning environments.


Studies demonstrating equivalent teaching efficacy of animal and non-animal methods

B1. Bauer MS, Glickman N, Glickman L, Toombs JP and Bill P (1992) Evaluation of the effectiveness of a cadaver laboratory during a fourth-year veterinary surgery rotation. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education, 19(2): 77-84.

Learning outcomes were similar between two groups of fourth year veterinary students, one taught surgery using a terminal and cadaver laboratory format, the other taught using survival laboratories.

B2. Carpenter LG, Piermattei DL, Salman MD, Orton EC, Nelson AW, Smeak DD, Jennings PB Jr, and Taylor RA (1991) A comparison of surgical training with live anesthetized dogs and cadavers. Veterinary Surgery, 20(6): 373-8.

During surgical training of veterinary medical students, one group of students was trained using cadavers*, and a peer group was trained using live anesthetized dogs. Both groups then performed an intestinal anastomosis using a live subject. After reviewers blindly scored each surgical team’s performance based on actual inspection of the surgical site and on viewing videotapes of the procedure, no statistically significant differences could be detected between the two groups, either in the quality of the procedure or the time until completion.

*While this abstract did not specify the source of the cadavers, the use of ethically-sourced cadavers, from animals that have been euthanized for medical reasons, or died from natural causes or in accidents, is possible. Therefore, in this study the cadavers were considered the more humane method.

B3. Clarke KA (1987) The use of microcomputer simulations in undergraduate neurophysiology experiments. Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 14: 134-40.

One undergraduate student group performed a physiological frog experiment on an isolated sciatic nerve preparation, while another group used a computer simulation of the same experiment. There was no significant difference between student groups in marks derived for the laboratory report, the standard form of assessment for a wet lab.

B4. Cohen PS and Block M (1991) Replacement of laboratory animals in an introductory-level psychology laboratory. Humane Innovations and Alternatives, 5: 221-225.

Undergraduate students who studied feral pigeons in a city park scored equally well on evaluations as did students who studied operant conditioning with rats in a traditional lab.

B5. DeHoff ME, Clark KL and Meganathan K (2011) Learning outcomes and student-perceived value of clay modeling and cat dissection in undergraduate human anatomy and physiology. Advances in Physiology Education, 35(1): 68-75.

Students who modeled anatomic structures in clay scored significantly higher on low-order questions related to peripheral nerves; scores were comparable between groups for high-order questions on peripheral nerves and for questions on muscles and blood vessels. These results indicate that clay modeling and cat dissection are equally effective in achieving student learning outcomes for certain systems in undergraduate human anatomy. Furthermore, clay modeling appears to be the preferred technique based on students’ subjective perceptions of value to their learning experience.

B6. Dewhurst DG, Brown GJ, Meehan AS (1988) Microcomputer simulations of laboratory experiments in physiology. Alternatives to Laboratory Animals, 15: 280-9.

One undergraduate student cohort (group) performed a physiological frog experiment on an isolated sciatic nerve preparation, while another cohort used a computer simulation of the same experiment. There was no significant difference between student cohorts in marks derived for the laboratory report, the standard form of assessment for a wet lab.

B7. Dewhurst DG, Hardcastle J, Hardcastle PT and Stuart E (1994) Comparison of a computer simulation program and a traditional laboratory practical class for teaching the principles of intestinal absorption. American Journal of Physiology, 267: S95-S95.

Six undergraduate students working independently with a computer program gained equal knowledge, at one-fifth the cost, as did eight supervised students using freshly killed rats.

B8. Dewhurst DG and Meehan AS (1993) Evaluation of the use of computer simulations of teaching undergraduate students. British Journal of Pharmacology 108: 238.

Undergraduate students using computer simulations performed equally well as students using traditional approaches in physiology and pharmacology laboratories.

B9. Downie R and Meadows J (1995) Experience with a dissection opt-out scheme in university level biology. Journal of Biological Education: 29(3): 187-194.

Cumulative examination results of 308 undergraduate biology students who studied model rats were the same as those of 2,605 students who performed rat dissections.

B10. Fawver AL, Branch CE, Trentham LANDA, Robertson BT, and Beckett SD (1990) A comparison of interactive videodisc instruction with live animal laboratories. The American Journal of Physiology, 259: S11-S14.

Use of interactive videodisc simulations yielded equivalent test performance and greater time efficiency in teaching cardiovascular physiology compared with instruction in a live animal laboratory.

B11. Greenfield CL, Johnson AL, Shaeffer DJ and LL Hungerford LL (1995) Comparison of surgical skills of veterinary students trained using models or live animals. Journal for the American Veterinary Medical Association 206(12): 1840–1845.

Surgical skills of veterinary students were evaluated following training with dogs and cats, or soft tissue organ models; performance of each group was equivalent.

B12. Guy JF, and Frisby AJ (1992) Using interactive videodiscs to teach gross anatomy to undergraduates at the Ohio State University. Academic Medicine: Journal of the Association of American Medical Colleges, 67(2): 132-133.

Performance of prenursing and premedical students using interactive videodiscs was not significantly different from that of students in traditional cadaver demonstration labs.

B13. Jones NA, Olafson RP and Sutin J (1978) Evaluation of a gross anatomy program without dissection. Journal of Medical Education 53: 198–205.

Learning performances of freshmen medical students using films, computer-assisted instruction and prosected human cadavers were the same as those of students taught by traditional lecture and dissection.

B14. Kinzie MB, Strauss R and Foss J (1993) The effects of an interactive dissection simulation on the performance and achievement of high school biology students. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 30(8): 989–1000.

Findings suggest that an interactive videodisc was at least as effective as actual dissection in promoting high school student learning of frog anatomy and dissection procedures.

B15. Lalley JP, Piotrowski, PS, Battaglia B, Brophy K and Chugh K (2010) A comparison of V-Frog© to physical frog dissection. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education 5(2): 189-200.

Students using V-Frog© outperformed students using traditional dissection on immediate post-test. On delayed post-test to test retention of information there was no difference between the groups.

B16. Leathard HL and Dewhurst DG (1995) Comparison of the cost effectiveness of a computer-assisted learning program with a tutored demonstration to teach intestinal motility to medical students. ALT-J 3(1): 118–125.

No significant difference was found in the performances of preclinical medical students who used a traditional live animal laboratory and those who used a computer simulation on intestinal motility.

B17. Leonard WH (1992) A comparison of student performance following instruction by interactive videodisc versus conventional laboratory. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29(1): 93-102.

Results show no statistically significant differences between the two approaches for student grades on laboratory quizzes, laboratory reports and the laboratory final exam. However, the interactive videodisc group required approximately one-half the classroom time used by the conventional laboratory group. The two approaches appear equivalent when evaluated by traditional learning outcomes, but the interactive videodisc strategy was significantly more time efficient than a traditional laboratory approach.

B18. Lieb MJ (1985) Dissection: A valuable motivational tool or a trauma to the high school student. Unpublished Thesis, Master of Education, National College of Education, Evanston, Illinois.

Post-test scores were equivalent for high school students who dissected earthworms and those who received a classroom lecture on earthworm anatomy.

B19. Marszalek CS and Lockard J (1999) Which way to jump: Conventional frog dissection, CD-tutorial or Microworld? Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Papers Presented at the National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology, Houston, Texas.

Seventh grade students who were taught frog internal anatomy via either traditional frog dissection or CD-Tutorial had significantly higher increases in pretest versus immediate post tests scores when compared to the same scores for students using the desktop Microworld. There were no significant differences in immediate versus delayed post-test scores for three learning methods, showing that students retain the information equally with an alternative versus traditional dissection.

B20. Montgomery L (2008) A comparison of the effectiveness of virtual and traditional dissection on learning frog anatomy in high school. Available at:……..41M.

Study found no differences in learning about frog anatomy between adolescent biology students learning with Cyber Ed Dissection Series and those learning with physical dissection.

B21. Olsen D, Bauer MS, Seim HB and Salman MD (1996) Evaluation of a Hemostasis Model for Teaching Basic Surgical Skills. Veterinary Surgery 25: 49-58.

Veterinary students who practiced vessel litigation and division on a hemostasis model scored as well on evaluations as students who practiced on live dogs.

B22. Pavletic MM, Schwartz A, Berg J and Knapp D (1994) An assessment of the outcome of the alternative medical and surgical laboratory program at Tufts University. Journal for the American Veterinary Medical Association, 205(1): 97–100.

No difference was found in surgical confidence or ability of veterinary graduates who had participated in an alternatives course of study versus those who had participated in a conventional course of study.

B23. Prentice ED, Metcalf WK, Quinn TH, Sharp JG, Jensen RH and Holyoke EA (1977) Stereoscopic anatomy: evaluation of a new teaching system in human gross anatomy. Academic Medicine, 52(9): 758-63.

Based on physician-assistant student learning performances, the authors concluded that use of labeled sequential slides of anatomical dissections provided a viable alternative to dissection.

B24. Strauss RT and Kinzie MB (1994) Student achievement and attitudes in a pilot study comparing an interactive videodisc simulation to conventional dissection. The American Biology Teacher 56(7): 398–402.

Two groups of high school students performed equally on a test following either animal dissection or interactive videodisc simulation.

B25. Taeger KR (2006) A comparison of retention of anatomical knowledge in an introductory college biology course: Traditional dissection vs. virtual dissection. ProQuest. Abstract available at:……..52T.

Two groups of college students currently enrolled in an introductory level college biology course were given one hour to complete a frog dissection. One group performed a traditional frog dissection, making cuts in an actual preserved frog specimen with scalpels and scissors. The other group performed a virtual frog dissection, using “The Digital Frog 2” software. Immediately after the dissections were completed, each group was given an examination consisting of questions on actual specimens, pictures generated from the computer software, and illustrations that neither group had seen. Two weeks later, unannounced, the groups took the same exam in order to test retention. The traditional dissection group scored significantly higher on two of the three sections, as well as the total score on the initial exam. However, with the exception of specimen questions (on which the traditional group retained significantly more information), there was no significant difference in the retention from exam 1 to exam 2 between the two groups.

B26. Waters JR, Van Meter P, Perrotti W, Drogo S and Cyr RJ (2011) Human clay models versus cat dissection: how the similarity between the classroom and the exam affects student performance. Advances in Physiology Education, 35(2): 227-236.

Ten undergraduate laboratory sections were assigned to three treatment groups: cat dissection only, cat dissection with handouts, and human clay sculpting with handouts. When identifying anatomic structures presented in a photograph or diagram, student performance improved significantly when transformation demands decreased, i.e., students in the human clay sculpting treatment group performed best on human anatomy questions and students in the cat dissection treatment group performed better on cat anatomy questions (independent of the use of handouts). There were similar, but nonsignificant, trends when students were asked functional anatomy questions presented in human and cat contexts.

B27. White KK, Wheaton LG and Greene SA (1992) Curriculum change related to live animal use: a four-year surgical curriculum. Journal of Veterinary Medical Education 19: 6–10.

After hesitancy in their first live tissue surgery, veterinary students from an alternative surgical laboratory program performed on par with students with a standard laboratory experience.

 Studies demonstrating superior efficacy of animal teaching methods

C1. Cross TR and Cross VE (2004) Scalpel or mouse: a statistical comparison of real and virtual frog dissections. The American Biology Teacher, 66(6): 408-11.

After being tested via laboratory practicals using both real and virtual frogs, high school AP Biology students who used real frog dissection performed significantly better on the laboratory practicals using real frogs than the students who used a virtual frog dissection. No significant difference was observed in the virtual laboratory practical test scores.

C2. Kariuki P and Paulson R (2001) The Effects of Computer Animated Dissection versus Preserved Animal Dissection on the Student Achievement in a High School Biology Class. Unpublished Paper, Presented at the Annual Meeting of the Mid-South Educational Research Association, Little Rock, Arkansas. Abstract available at:

High school biology students taught earthworm and frog dissection via traditional dissection scored significantly better on a post-test than high school biology students taught using a CD- ROM. When the scores to the post-tests were separated and compared independently among males and females, the students performed equally.

C3. Matthews D (1998) Comparison of MacPig to Fetal Pig Dissection in College Biology. The American Biology Teacher, 60(3): 228–229.

Eight biology undergraduate students who dissected fetal pigs scored significantly higher on an oral test with prosected fetal pigs than did twelve students who studied on a computerized pig (MacPig).*

* Balcombe J. The American Biology Teacher. 1998;60(8):555-6. Criticized the study because MacPig is not advanced enough for college level biology instruction, to which Matthews replied, adding nothing further of substance: Matthews D. Efficacy of fetal pig dissection alternatives questioned. The American Biology Teacher 1998b;61(2):88.

C4. Smeak DD, Hill LN, Beck ML, Shaffer CA and Birchard SJ (1994) Evaluation of an autotutorial- simulator program for instruction of hollow organ closure. Veterinary Surgery, 23(6):519-28.

A simulator program used during the practice laboratory for hollow organ closure was found unsuitable for simulating live stomach tissue, and it could not address several issues associated with live gastrotomy. While the simulator was sufficient for teaching other procedures, there was no significant difference in students’ overall gastrotomy technique between students who practiced with traditional methods and students who used the simulator.