Standardisation of Environmental Enrichment for Laboratory Mice and Rats: Utilisation, Practicality and Variation in Experimental Results

  • V Baumans Karolinska Institute, Department of Neuroscience, Stockholm and Dept. Animals, Science and Society, Div. Laboratory Animal Science, Utrecht University
  • P L P Van Loo Dept. Animals, Science and Society, Div. Laboratory Animal Science, Utrecht University and TNO Quality of Life, Dept. Quality, Safety & Environment
  • T M Pham Karolinska Institute, Department of Neuroscience, Stockholm

Abstract

Rats and mice are the most commonly used species as laboratory animal models of diseases in biomedical  research. Environmental factors such as cage size, number of cage mates and cage structure such as environmental  enrichment can affect the physiology and behavioural development of laboratory animals and  their well-being throughout their lives. Therefore compromising the animals’ well-being due to inadequate  environmental conditions would diminish the value of the research models. In order to improve laboratory  animals’ well-being and promote the quality of animal based biomedical research, it is fundamentally  important that the environment of the animals meets the animals’ species typical behavioural needs. Standardisation  of environmental enrichment for laboratory rats and mice therefore should provide possibilities  for the animals to engage in at least the essential behavioural needs such as social contact, nest building,  exploring and foraging. There is a wide variety of environmental enrichment items commercially available  for laboratory mice and rats. However, how these items are used by the animals, their practicality in the  laboratory and whether these enrichments might lead to increased variation in experimental results have  not been widely assessed. In this study, we implemented two standardised enrichment items (shelters, nesting  materials) for rats and mice at different animal units. We instructed the animal care staff in monitoring  the use of enrichment items by the animals by means of a daily score sheet system. The animal staff ’s  viewpoint on practicality of the standardised enrichment program was assessed with a monthly score sheet  survey. Also we assessed whether the enriched environment affected breeding results and contributed to an  increase in variation of experimental data from several participating current studies. Our results show that  the animals readily used the provided enrichment items. A slight increase in workload for the animal staff  was reported. However, the overall judgement was mainly reported as good. Breeding results and variation  in experimental data did not reveal differences as compared to data from previous housing and/or non enriched  housing conditions. Overall, the results indicate that standard environmental enrichment that is species  appropriate may enhance the animal’s well-being without undesirable side effects on the experimental  outcome and daily working routine of the animal care staff. 

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