Vascular catheters

Long-term repeated access to blood vessels for sampling, administering drug compounds and other substances, or measuring blood pressure in laboratory animals is facilitated by implanting vascular catheters or cannulae. Catherisation/cannulation can be considered for long-term sampling or multiple sampling over a relatively short time period.

When correctly implanted, catheters can reduce the stress and discomfort associated with multiple sampling techniques such as repeated restraint and needle stick. In addition to blood sampling, catheterisation can also be considered for repeated substance administration or continuous ambulatory infusion. Catheters can be used to access deep, normally inaccessible vessels (e.g. the hepatic portal vein) and temporary cannulas can also be considered for superficial veins. Technical developments have made automated blood sampling possible in animals with implanted catheters (Holmberg and Pelletier 2009). 

The ethical review of research protocols proposing to use implanted catheters should carefully weigh the benefits against the costs of the surgical procedures required to implant catheters (e.g. potential pain, discomfort and distress) and the risk of long term complications, such as infection, thrombosis (which dependent on the site can result in stroke) and reactions to implant materials (Morton et al. 2001).

The main challenges to successful long-term vascular access are:

  • Preventing thrombosis, which can lead to catheter and vessel blockage (occlusion).
  • Using appropriate catheter material, design and construction.
  • Preventing catheter-related infection and managing cutaneous exit sites.
  • Restricting animal interaction with the catheter.

Good planning and experimental design are essential to ensure optimum research outcomes from animals with vascular catheters.

We have a number of pages dedicated to vascular catheters:

 Click here for information on preventing thrombosis when implanting catheters in laboratory animalsClick here for information on the design of catheters for use in laboratory animalsClick here for information on preventing infection when implanting catheters in laboratory animalsClick here for information on planning and designing experiments which will involve implanting catheters into laboratory animalsClick here for a glossary of terms used in our pages on implaning catheters into laboratory animals

Please also read our general principles page before attempting any blood sampling procedure.

Resources and references