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Effects of Cage Enrichment on Behavior, Welfare and Outcome Variability in Female Mice

The manner in which laboratory rodents are housed is driven by economics (minimal use of space and resources), ergonomics (ease of handling and visibility of animals), hygiene, and standardization (reduction of variation). This has resulted in housing conditions that lack sensory and motor stimulation and restrict the expression of species-typical behavior. In mice, such housing conditions have been associated with indicators of impaired welfare, including abnormal repetitive behavior (stereotypies, compulsive behavior), enhanced anxiety and stress reactivity, and thermal stress. However, due to concerns that more complex environmental conditions might increase variation in experimental results, there has been considerable resistance to the implementation of environmental enrichment beyond the provision of nesting material.

Modifications to Husbandry and Housing Conditions
of Laboratory Rodents for Improved Well-being

The manner in which laboratory rodents are housed is driven by economics (minimal use of space and resources), ergonomics (ease of handling and visibility of animals), hygiene, and standardization (reduction of variation). This has resulted in housing conditions that lack sensory and motor stimulation and restrict the expression of species-typical behavior. In mice, such housing conditions have been associated with indicators of impaired welfare, including abnormal repetitive behavior (stereotypies, compulsive behavior), enhanced anxiety and stress reactivity, and thermal stress. However, due to concerns that more complex environmental conditions might increase variation in experimental results, there has been considerable resistance to the implementation of environmental enrichment beyond the provision of nesting material.

Environmental Enrichment and Mouse Models: Current Perspectives

    The provision of environmental enrichment to numerous species of laboratory animals is generally considered routine husbandry. However, mouse enrichment has proven to be very complex due to the often contradictory outcomes (animal health and welfare, variability in scientific data, etc.) associated with strain, age of the animal when enrichment is provided, gender of the animal, scientific use of the animal, and other housing attributes. While this has led to some suggesting that mice should not be provided enrichment, more recently opinion is trending toward acknowledging that enrichment actually normalizes the animal and data obtained from a mouse living in a barren environment are likely not to be representative or even reliable.

    THE BENEFITS OF ENVIRONMENTAL ENRICHMENT FOR LABORATORY MICE

        The natural behavior of mice includes burrowing, foraging, exploring, gnawing, and nest building. These behaviors are essential to the well-being of the animal, and if prevented from performing these activities mice may engage in non-productive repetitive behaviors1,2. Prevention from responding to their natural inclinations could result in undue stress for the animal, possibly impacting their health and increasing stress-related hormone levels.

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