Effects of Alternative Housing Systems on Physical and Social Activity in Male Sprague Dawley and Spontaneously Hypertensive Rats

Elin Spangenberg, Christina Remes, Lars Friis Mikkelsen, Katarina Cvek


Two alternative rat cages and their effect on home cage physical and social activity were evaluated in male  Sprague Dawley (SPD) and Spontaneously Hypertensive (SH) rats for 10 weeks. Rats were housed strainwise  in pairs in ST cages, in groups of eight in Enriched Rat Cage System (ERC) equipped with a shelter and  wall-hung ladders, and in groups of eight in four interconnected Scantainer NOVO cages (NOVO), equipped  with shelves. Home cage activity was assessed through direct observations and effects were studied in  exercise tests, parameters related to physical activity and in the Elevated Plus Maze (EPM). Effects of  within-group variation on the minimum sample size needed to detect a treatment effect were calculated  for the different cage types. The home cage activity was highest in NOVO cages, followed by the ERC  cages. This was supported by the higher locomotor and exploratory activity in the EPM and an improved  performance in the last exercise test, compared to ST-caged rats. Aggressive and submissive interactions  were higher in NOVO cages compared to ST cages. The design of the NOVO cages, if connected, might  induce both a higher activity level and more aggression. The hypertension and insulin resistance typical  of the hypertensive rat model were not influenced by an increased home cage activity. No major effects  of alternative cage types were found on within-group variation. The activity was not enough to create a  distinct training effect but prevented exercise-related parameters from deteriorating during the study and is  therefore still relevant for the health and welfare of the animals. Additional benefits of the alternative cages  are qualitative, since they stimulate a wider range of behaviours, social interactions and offer possibilities  for the rats to control their situation. 

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