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:
- Annex II of European Directive 2010/63/EU on the protection of animals used for experimental and other purposes
- Appendix A (PDF 632KB) of European Convention ETS 123 for the protection of vertebrate animals used for experimental and other scientific purposes. This should be read in conjunction with the background information (PDF 3.93MB) which relates to the species-specific provisions.
In the UK, the minimum standards are defined in the Home Office Codes of Practice.
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.
- The Enrichment Record is a free online quarterly journal on refining housing, husbandry and care.
- NC3Rs (UK) information portal on housing and husbandry.
- The Animal Research Review Panel (ARRP), New South Wales, has produced good practice guidelines for a number of species.
- Animal Welfare Institute database on Refinement of Housing and Handling Conditions and Environmental Enrichment for Animals Kept in Laboratories.
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