How We Can Replace the Use of Rabbits in Experiments

Find out what animal-free and human-relevant methods could (and should) be used instead of cruel experiments on rabbits.
June 4, 2023

Advancing human medicine, science, and technology are all possible without using animals. From cell-cultured organoids and 3D printing to the use of human cells and sophisticated computer models, many scientific methods can be used instead of cruel, outdated and unreliable animal experiments.

To help illustrate this, we have found several experiments on rabbits that have been conducted in NZ, and we've done some research to find out what animal-free and human-relevant methods could (and should) be used instead:

First - here are a few quick facts about rabbits used for science in NZ:

  • Over 1,000 rabbits are used annually for research, testing and teaching in NZ.
  • A vast majority of these animals are killed. I.e. in 2020 *the most recent data we have access to, 97% of rabbits used were killed.
  • Some rabbits are bred for science, never used, and subsequently killed. In 2020 this was the case for 142 rabbits.


In this experiment, six New Zealand White Rabbits were used.1 They were housed individually with dry food and water.

The rabbits were anaesthetised, and their left sinus tract was completely blocked with Merocel, a sterile nasal packing material. They were left like this for four weeks before the blockage was removed.

Two of the six rabbits died from an unknown cause. All remaining rabbits were killed via an anaesthetic overdose so that their snouts could be analysed.

The purpose: To investigate sinusitis in a rabbit model to try and learn more about chronic rhinosinusitis in humans.

What could be used instead of rabbits?

The following animal-free research methods could be explored further to help replace the use of rabbits in experiments like this one:


Lung-Airway-Chips are microfluidic devices that contain a network of interconnected reservoirs. These can mimic human lungs - researchers can place lung cells inside the reservoirs, add a test drug and quickly evaluate how the chemical is distributed, metabolised and excreted.

Lung-Airway-Chips are already able to portray breathing motions and immune responses.2

Tissue cultures

Tissue cultures of patient-derived nasal samples have been used to show how lung tissue reacts to sinusitis drug treatment.3


This experiment used 16 male New Zealand White Rabbits, 10–12 weeks old.4

  • Rabbits were regularly wrapped tightly in a towel over a two-week period so that they would get used to being restrained.
  • They were given a local painkiller before being force-fed different doses of two test substances via a stomach tube (apart from two rabbits, who only got a control solution, containing acetone).
  • Blood samples were taken before dosing and again after two days.
  • Rabbits showing signs of poisoning were killed early via an anaesthetic overdose – this was the case for four of the rabbits. For example, one rabbit was euthanised after eight hours because he was showing signs of diarrhoea, inactivity and abnormal responses to external stimuli.
  • Additionally, two rabbits died in-between observations. At this point of the experiment, rabbits were observed every three hours. So, within a three-hour period, their health must have declined rapidly.
    All remaining rabbits were killed at predetermined time points within four days.

The purpose: To investigate the toxicity of two substances that may cause liver disease in grazing cattle. Rabbits were used because testing directly on calves would be too expensive. Previous studies have been conducted on rats too.

What could be used instead of rabbits?

Liver-chips have successfully been used to test how toxic substances are to specific organs.5  These could be made using cattle cell cultures, giving much more precise results than data from rabbits or rats.


This experiment used eight pregnant New Zealand White Rabbits obtained from a commercial breeder.6

  • Rabbits were anaesthetised, cut open, and their uterus was pulled out far enough to place in an organ bath. Oxytocin was injected to trigger contractions. Wire electrodes were inserted to measure electric activity.
  • Once all the measurements were taken (while still under anaesthetic), the rabbits were killed via an anaesthetic overdose.

The purpose: To investigate changes in contraction dynamics of the uterus to try and learn about the causes of preterm labour.

What could be used instead of rabbits?

Researchers can already replicate the uterus-fetus connection using organ-on-a-chip technology for drug metabolism,7 and have been able to recreate the 28-day menstrual cycle (with tissue taken from mice – clearly, we’d rather tissues obtained ethically from humans be used instead) with ovulation and hormone changes.8

The US National Center of Advancing Translational Sciences is working on a whole reproductive system-on-chip,9 and several research groups have been studying the possibilities of organ chips in implantation and placentation research.10

Rabbits are used in many ways for science in NZ. The above examples are truly just the tip of the iceberg. However, they also help highlight just how promising organ-on-a-chip technology is.

Many barriers are holding up the use and further development of animal-free research methods (like organ-chips). Our Striking at the Source campaign is all about removing these blockades!

By supporting NZAVS and this powerful campaign, you are directly helping create the cruelty-free future we all dream of!

Note: At NZAVS, it's important that the work we produce is evidence-based, which is why we include references wherever possible. However, it's also crucial that our many fierce supporters know that NZAVS is a non-violent charity, and we seek to make change through peaceful methods. Non-violence to us isn’t just physical, it also includes avoiding verbal and psychological violence.

With your help we can end animal experimentation in Aotearoa.