Housing, husbandry and care

Most institutional ethics or animal care and use committees, including the UK Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) and the Animal Welfare Body (AWB) in other member states of the European Union, will consider and advise on animal housing, husbandry and care, and on the eventual fate of animals - including humane killing and rehoming.

Housing and care has a major impact on the welfare of animals and consequently on the quality of scientific data. All establishments should therefore aim to refine housing and care as far as possible. Consideration of the natural habitat, biology and behaviour of each species can provide useful insights into appropriate refinements to housing and husbandry, including environmental enrichment. Many 'natural' behaviours persist even after many generations in the laboratory, as shown in the documentary Ratlife and discussed in Latham & Mason (2004) and Burn (2008) - see resource section below.

The importance of good housing and care is acknowledged within many laws regulating animal care and use, but legal requirements set only the minimum standards required and it is important to improve on these. Housing needs to allow animals a degree of choice and encourage a wide range of behaviours, including exercise, social behaviour and foraging. Critical factors include: the size of cages or pens and the nature of the environmental enrichment provided; whether animals are housed socially (where appropriate); the level of disturbance caused by husbandry routines (e.g. cage cleaning) and the care that animals receive from staff.

A local or institutional ethics committee can act as a driver for better practice by developing local standards, values and approaches to animal care, and by ensuring that new information on good practice is implemented whenever appropriate.


Standards of housing and care in Europe are governed by: 

In the UK, the minimum standards are defined in the Home Office Codes of Practice.

Other guidance

The RSPCA's research animals team has produced a range of guidance notes to help improve on the minimum legal standards of housing, husbandry and care by setting out good practice for commonly used species. The guidelines (see right) are based on the scientific literature and current good practice.

Online resources

Books and journal papers

  • Hubrecht R & Kirkwood J [eds] (2010) 'The UFAW Handbook on the Care and Management of Laboratory and Other Research Animals' 8th edn. Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
  • Latham N & Mason G (2004) 'From house mouse to mouse house: the behavioural biology of free-living Mus musculus and its implications in the laboratory'. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 86: p261-289.
  • Burn CC (2008) 'What is it like to be a rat? Rat sensory perception and its implications for experimental design and rat welfare'. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 112: p1-32 

Good practice guidelines for laboratory animal housing and care