Survival Surgery on Animals




Survival surgical procedures performed on research, testing and teaching animals must be done by qualified personnel using aseptic technique in appropriate facilities. Pre-procedural and post-procedural care must conform to current established veterinary medical practices and must be documented in surgical records.


This document addresses the policy and guidelines pertaining to survival surgical procedures and postsurgical care and monitoring of animals used in research, teaching or testing at the Urbana-Champaign campus.


  • Major Survival Surgery: Any surgical intervention that penetrates and exposes a body cavity, produces substantial impairment of physical or physiologic functions, or involves extensive tissue dissection or transection. Per the Guide, as a general guideline, major survival surgery (e.g. laparotomy, thoracotomy, joint replacement, and limb amputation) penetrates and exposes a body cavity, produces substantial impairment of physical or physiologic functions, or involves extensive tissue dissection or transection.
  • Minor Survival Surgery: Minor survival surgery does not expose a body cavity and causes little or no physical impairment, (e.g. wound suturing; peripheral-vessel cannulation; such routine farm-animal procedures as castration, dehorning, and repair of prolapses).
  • Multiple Major Survival Surgeries: More than one major operative procedure from which the animal is allowed to recover. Multiple survival surgical procedures should be necessary for the objectives of a single research or instructional project. Cost reduction alone is not adequate justification for conducting multiple major survival surgeries on the same animal.
  • Aseptic Techniques: The use of practices that restrict and minimize the number of microorganisms in the operating environment and reduce any contamination of a surgical wound to the lowest possible practical level. These practices include sanitation of the operating location, preparation of the animal, preparation of the surgeon, and sterilization of instruments and supplies.
  • Sterile Tip Technique: This method of aseptic technique restricts the surgeon to only using the sterile working ends of instruments to manipulate the sterile field. This practice is only to be used in select species (mouse, rat, hamster, and certain aquatic and avian species) in situations where maintaining sterility of gloves is more problematic than maintaining the sterility of the instrument tips.
  • Clean Non-Sterile Field Surgery: Certain standard agricultural or field research procedures may be conducted using clean techniques rather than aseptic procedures. Details and justification for this exception must be provided in the IACUC protocol.


Personnel Qualifications

Qualifications to conduct animal surgery must be described in the IACUC protocol Personnel Experience section. Qualifications may include one or more of the following:

  • Documented professional training,
  • In-person training by Animal Care Program (ACP) veterinary staff,
  • Completion of an online training module (Aseptic technique training),
  • Documented training by an experienced Principal Investigator. The use of animals for surgical training must take place under a separate IACUC protocol, or be accounted for in the Rationale for Numbers and described in the Surgical Procedures sections of the project’s IACUC protocol.

Surgical Facilities

  • Rodents and Non-Mammalian Vertebrates: Major survival surgical procedures must take place in a dedicated room designated for aseptic procedures or in a specific laboratory area that provides separation from other activities. The area of the laboratory or facility where surgery is conducted must have been inspected and approved by the IACUC. Work surfaces and storage units must be easily sanitized. The location should include an area for surgery preparation separated from the operative area in space or time.
  • Non-Rodent Mammals: Surgery on non-rodent laboratory animals and agricultural animals in biomedical research and teaching must be conducted in a dedicated surgical facility that has been inspected and approved by the IACUC. A dedicated surgical facility is structured to be easily cleaned and sanitized and is managed to ensure cleanliness. Preparation for surgery should take place in a different room or an area separated by distance or timing between activities.
  • Agricultural Animals: Minor surgical procedures and standard agricultural practices conducted with agricultural species used in food and fiber research may be performed in agricultural animal facilities or on private farms, or in a field setting when approved by the IACUC. Note, that even when conducted in an agricultural setting, surgical procedures require the use of aseptic or clean non-sterile surgical techniques.
  • Wildlife: Surgical procedures, both major and minor, performed on wild animals may be conducted in field settings when approved by the IACUC. Aseptic or clean non-sterile surgical technique must be followed. Animals may need to be maintained in temporary captivity following procedures to ensure protection from predation or limit exposure to environmental factors.

Aseptic Practices

Aseptic practices must be described in the Surgical Procedures sections of the project’s IACUC protocol.

1. Sanitation of the Operating Location

  • Area must be free of clutter and disinfectants must be used to prepare hard surfaces.
  • When performing surgeries on multiple animals during a single session, the surgical area in contact with the animals must be disinfected between surgeries.

2. Preparation of the Animal

  • The animal must be prepared for surgery by removing hair or feathers from the surgical site.
  • This procedure should be performed in an area separate from where the surgery will be done. Analgesics (preemptive analgesia) should be administered as described in the approved IACUC protocol.
  • For all animals undergoing general anesthesia, the ophthalmic ointment should be applied to the eyes in order to protect the corneas from drying out.
  • The surgical site(s) should be prepared with an appropriate skin disinfectant.
  • The surgical preparation of animals should be completed before the surgeon dons surgical attire, including sterile gloves (if worn).

3. PPE or Clothing for Surgery

Surgeons and any assistants are expected to wear appropriate clothing, which should replace or cover street clothes. In some circumstances, sterile gowns are expected. Standard PPE for most surgeries include:

  • Clean surgical gown, overalls, or lab coat
  • Mask
  • Head or hair cover
  • Sterile surgical gloves. Ordinary, non-sterile laboratory gloves are not acceptable for all surgical procedures EXCEPT when using sterile tip technique
  • Clean, non-sterile laboratory gloves are ONLY acceptable for surgical procedures using sterile tip technique or minor standard agricultural procedures

4. Surgical Instruments and Devices

Surgical instruments and devices must be either sterile, single-use or sterilized by a method appropriate for the material.

For surgical procedures using sterile tip technique, whole instruments must initially be sterilized using an appropriate method for the material (e.g. autoclaving, gas sterilization, chemical sterilization). Any item that comes into contact with the surgical site (suture, suture needle, instrument tips, etc.) must be sterile. Instrument tips and devices must be maintained on a sterile surface to prevent contamination of the surgical site. This method of aseptic technique must be described in the animal use protocol if it is intended to be performed.

Special consideration for procedures on multiple animals (rodents and non-mammals): Surgical procedures may be performed on multiple rodents and non-mammals during a single session using one sterile surgical pack, providing instruments are heated in a hot bead sterilizer for a minimum of 15 seconds between surgeries. All biological debris, such as blood or tissue, must be removed from the instruments prior to placing them in the hot bead sterilizer. Instruments must be cooled prior to contact with the animal. At any time, if a sterile glove encounters a non-sterile item, the glove is no longer sterile and new sterile gloves should be donned in order to maintain aseptic technique.

Surgical procedures performed on non-rodent mammals and agricultural animals, in both agricultural and biomedical research, should use new sterile packs with each major surgery.

Post-Operative Care

  • An important component of post-surgical care is observation of the animal and intervention if required during recovery from anesthesia and surgical procedures. This is best accomplished by (1) training of personnel, (2) principal investigator oversight of surgical and post-operative care, (3) clear delineation of responsibilities among key individuals (PI, project personnel, animal care staff and veterinary staff.
  • Post-operative monitoring is the responsibility of the research staff and/or surgeon.
  • Anesthetized and unconscious animals must be monitored until the animal is conscious and able to walk or maintain itself in sternal recumbency.
  • Unconscious animals should not be housed in a primary enclosure with other animals that are fully or partially awake.
  • During recovery, supportive care must be given based on the species of animal. Mammalian and avian species should be kept warm and dry. Aquatic species should be maintained in thermal, hydrated and oxygenated conditions which are appropriate for the species.
  • If any animal develops unexpected complications from surgical or post-surgical procedures, appropriate veterinary care must be provided.
  • Skin sutures or staples should be removed when the surgical wound has healed and per guidelines described in the approved IACUC protocol. This is typically 7-14 days post-operatively but the timeframe is dependent on the species and procedure.
  • Animals must be monitored at the frequency and duration of that described in the associated IACUC protocol. Surgical records should be maintained with important operative and post-operative information ( e.g. annotate cage card with procedure and date, body weight on the day of surgery, analgesic administration, wound closure removal, etc.). Daily monitoring of the animal should continue until the animal is stable (e.g. body weight, body condition, activity, etc.).

Postoperative Analgesia

The investigator must provide a detailed written description of methods used to assess and alleviate postoperative pain or distress in animals undergoing potentially distressful or painful procedures. When animals undergo a survival surgical procedure, routine provision of post-surgical analgesia is required unless withholding analgesics is scientifically justified. The justification should include the rationale and evidence that agents, if given, would compromise the scientific validity of the research. Investigators are highly encouraged to consult with ACP veterinary staff during the planning of surgical procedures to identify appropriate use of analgesics.

Surgery Records

It is the responsibility of the principal investigator and/or surgeon to maintain accurate and complete records regarding surgical procedures, pre-operative and post-operative care. USDA-covered species must have individual surgical records; laboratory rodents and agricultural species used in food and fiber research may have group records, but individual records are recommended for some major procedures. These records must be maintained by the principal investigator for three years beyond the termination date of the IACUC protocol.

Surgical records performed under an approved IACUC protocol must be turned into ACP for review by the veterinary staff. Surgery records must be submitted electronically using the online protocol system. Surgical records pertaining to standard agricultural processing procedures (e.g. piglet castration or piglet tail docking) are exempt from this requirement. Teaching protocols are also exempt from this requirement but surgery reports should be readily available for review.

  • Surgery records, including those for agricultural species used in food and fiber research, must be turned in to ACP within 21 days of the date of surgery
  • Animals that undergo surgical procedures will be monitored in accordance to their IACUC protocol, and monitoring intervals will be established in consultation with ACP veterinarians. This monitoring must be documented on the surgical records.
  • Post-operative that undergo surgical procedures will be monitored in accordance to their IACUC protocol, and monitoring intervals will be established in consultation with ACP veterinarians. This monitoring must be documented on the surgical records.

Examples of surgical record forms are available on the OVCRI website.

Follow these steps to upload surgery reports:

To streamline the submission of surgical reports, the IACUC online protocol system includes a dashboard function to upload completed surgery reports.  Please make sure all pre-operative and post-operative care as well as anesthetic procedures are included.

  1. Go to the Dashboard View
  2. Locate the protocol that covers the surgical procedure
  3. Near the right of the screen, click on "More Options" for the correct protocol
  4. Select "Upload Surgery Records"
  5. Select "Add a New Record"
  6. Enter the date of the surgery
  7. Enter a brief description of the surgery (e.g. ovariectomy, intrahippocampal injection)
  8. Select a file to upload
  9. Save changes

NOTE: Please upload only one surgery report at a time for each “New Record”.

Researchers will be contacted if inconsistencies between the forms and the protocol are found.


Approved Date

Revised Date