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Applying refinement to lifetime experiences

Reviewing each animal’s potential lifetime experiences at the project planning stage is an essential first step towards reducing suffering and improving welfare. It is most effectively done by discussion between people possessing a range of different knowledge and experience, such as the researcher, the veterinarian and animal technologists, with additional input from an animal behaviour or welfare scientist if necessary. The review should consider as many of these factors as applicable:

– where will the animal come from?

  • If an external breeder, how do the standards of housing, husbandry and care compare with those at the user establishment? At what age are juvenile animals separated from the dam (‘weaning’)? How does ‘weaning’ age compare with good practice guidelines, other facilities, and/or the age at which they would separate in the wild (as appropriate)?
  • If bred in-house, at what age does separation from the dam take place? What measures are in place to ensure that supply meets demand and wastage is minimised? (If there are any surplus animals, what happens to them and why?)
  • If animals are ‘wild caught’, is everything done to ensure that the method of capture causes the least suffering possible? What is the impact of captivity (even if this is short-term) post-capture  on the animal? If animals are to be returned to the wild, what will be the impact on the animal?

Transport – is this avoided wherever possible, or are journeys refined so as to minimise stress? Are recovery times following transport adequate from both animal welfare and scientific aspects? If animals have to be transported between buildings/rooms within a facility, is every effort made to minimise stress?

Marking for identification – is this minimally invasive and fully refined?

Biopsy for genotyping
– is the minimum amount of tissue taken, or could non-invasive techniques be used? Could biopsy be combined with identification (e.g. ear punching in rodents)?

Housing – is a good quality and quantity of space provided, with appropriate group housing (for social animals), environmental enrichment and adaptations for animals affected by procedures (if necessary)? Does the housing provided allow animals to express as many natural behaviours as possible within the restrictions of your facility?

Husbandry and care – is this sympathetic to the animals’ behavioural and sensory adaptations, e.g. are light regimes appropriate for the species, does cage cleaning (PDF 475KB) try to accommodate scent markings and is sufficient recovery allowed before procedures?

Capture, handling and restraint – is it recognised that these can be stressful and are all suitably refined, including minimising episodes of restraint or using positive reinforcement training? The UK NC3Rs has a resource on this topic.

Scientific procedures and their after effects – has the experimental design been optimised to reduce suffering? See a worked example of this - Planning for refinement and reduction (PDF 156KB). Are procedures fully refined and regularly reviewed; is assessment of pain or distress adequate and effective? Are humane endpoints clear and understood by all? If animals are going to experience a series of techniques, what will the ‘cumulative’ effects be and how can additional suffering be recognised and dealt with? EU guidance on severity assessment (PDF 702KB) is a useful resource which sets out a clear framework which is easy to follow and implement.

Humane killing – has the least distressing method that is compatible with the study been chosen, or has the ‘default’ at the establishment been selected? Could the technique be refined?

It is important to note that there is a legal requirement within EU legislation (PDF 1.42MB) to ensure that suffering is minimised. To achieve this, it is important to keep up with current recommended ‘best’ practice in relation to refining all of the above, acknowledging that ranges of experience and knowledge are required to identify, interpret, implement and evaluate refinements. A designated individual or body, such as the Named Information Officer or the AWERB/AWB, should be responsible for ensuring that new information on refinement, animal behaviour and biology, and relevant scientific developments is available for review within the facility.

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