How are dissection animals acquired?

1 Answer
Apr 15, 2016

It depends on the animal and your locale.


There are 4 major animals used for dissection: frogs, cats, fetal pigs, and humans. I'll write a brief segment on each.


Frogs used for dissection are typically obtained in three ways either: (1) they are caught in the wild (during legally established hunting periods), (2) they are a byproduct of the food industry (something happens to them during the shipment of the frogs), or (3) they are raised in farm like conditions called cultures.

Frog dissections are conducted typically at the high school level to give a cursory overview of how an organ system works. Since frog anatomy does not resemble that of a human's frogs are usually not utilized in undergraduate and medical school level human anatomy classes.

Sometimes frogs are used in an incredibly controversial educational practice called pithing (I won't explain the process here for the sake of my audience, you can click on the link to find out more about pithing)


Most cats are feral cats that are caught by the animal services group in your community. These cats, most of the time, are not domesticated, when the cat is caught there are obvious signs that the cat is feral but the law prohibits immediate euthanization the cats are checked for a microchip, if the cat does not have a microchip (at least in my state) the cat must be kept in a shelter for 4 days before it can be euthanized.

Cats are typically used in an undergraduate level human anatomy class since they have a greater semblance to human anatomy than a frog but are much cheaper to purchase and maintain than a human cadaver (plus the laws regarding human cadavers are stringent).

Fetal Pigs

Fetal pigs are a byproduct of the food industry (slaughter houses). There are very few regulations regarding the transfer of fetal pigs to educational institutions for dissection (at least in the U.S.). Fetal pigs are cheaper than cats, yet resemble human anatomical structures almost as well as a cat (it depends on how far along in the development process the pig is).

Fetal pigs, like cats, are typically used at the undergraduate level.

Human Cadavers

You've probably heard someone say: "I'm going to donate my body to science", literally they're saying "I want my body to used as a cadaver". Most major universities have a cadaver program. Essentially when someone decides to donate their body they sign a few papers saying that the university can use the body for scientific purposes after the person passes away. The body is still the property of the deceased's family so when the cadaver is no longer being used (typically in 5 to 10 years) the body is cremated and returned to the family.

There are many laws and regulations regarding human cadavers and anonymity (in fact the professor typically is only given a body ID number and a cause of death). Human cadavers require a lot of upkeep and are expensive to maintain.

Typically the opportunity to dissect human cadavers is given only upperclassmen undergraduate students and graduate-level life science students.

More on Dissection

If you live in any of these states:

California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, or Washington, DC

And are a K-12 student you can opt out of dissections and do a different assignment without jeopardizing your grade.