THINKING ABOUT THE LIFETIME EXPERIENCES OF EACH ANIMAL
There is huge potential for reducing suffering and improving welfare by thinking carefully about how every event might be experienced by the animal and how each one can be optimally refined.
Examples of actions: Review practices to avoid or refine invasive techniques, and colony management to minimise ‘wastage’ or overbreeding; try to avoid early maternal separation.
Marking for identification
Examples of actions: Use non- or minimally invasive methods, including using natural coat markings, or skin patterns, e.g. for Xenopus frogs. Consider whether the same procedure, e.g. ear punching in mice, can be used for both identification and genotyping (see ‘Genotyping’). Use local anaesthetic and/or topical analgesia where appropriate.
Examples of actions: Ensure full cage changes are done at appropriate intervals and refined to reduce stress. Minimise noise and other disturbances in the animal facility that animals find aversive, e.g. ultrasound for mice. Think about the timing of noisy practices and how this fits with circadian patterns, lighting regimes and scientific procedures. Consider what food is provided, how it is presented to the animals, and how they might interact with it, e.g. will manipulating it ready for consumption provide physical or mental stimulation?
Effects of procedures
Following a procedure, an animal may for example experience pain, nausea or anxiety. They may also be in discomfort as they try to move around, or eat or drink. As many species used in laboratories are ‘prey’ species, they may hide feelings of pain or vulnerability.
Examples of actions: Ensure people using or caring for animals have a thorough understanding of the natural behaviour of the study species. Create a welfare assessment system that is tailored to the study, including indicators of expected adverse effects, humane endpoints and other observations, and ensure that staff monitoring animals are trained to use this. Some animals may need help getting to food, or eating (for example, rats may benefit from wet mash or jelly on the floor of the cage), or rodents will find comfort from being provided with additional nesting material to help them feel safe and maintain their body temperature whilst they recover.
Capture from the wild
Examples of actions: Review and refine trap design and carefully consider when and where traps are placed. Ensure equipment is well maintained (e.g. to minimise potential for animals to injure themselves) and check traps regularly to minimise the period animals are confined. Act calmly and quietly around animals.
Examples of actions: Ensure the minimum amount of tissue is taken; use tissue from identification procedures, e.g. ear notching, wherever possible; provide the animal with local anaesthetic and/or topical analgesia where appropriate; review the potential for non-invasive techniques e.g. faecal samples.
Handling and restraint
Examples of actions: Remember that humans will be perceived as ‘predators’ by many species. Use methods which minimise stress or anxiety, e.g. pick up mice using tunnels or cupped hands. Use positive reinforcement training wherever possible – many species, including rodents, can learn to come to the handler and habituate to procedures such as blood sampling or oral gavage.
Examples of actions: Question whether it is essential to kill the animal for scientific or animal welfare reasons, or could they be rehomed (see ‘Rehoming or release’)? Even if a humane killing technique is on an approved list (e.g. Schedule 1 in the UK or Annex IV in the EU), always question whether it is the most appropriate and fully refined process. Could animals be killed in their home cage, to reduce stress?
Examples of actions: Where possible, send eggs, sperm or embryos; minimise journey duration, noise and vibration; review reception, quarantine and health screening protocols. Plan and liaise with colleagues to minimise moving animals within the animal house unless this is for essential scientific or animal welfare reasons, e.g. to an exercise area.
Examples of actions: Think about the physical, psychological and behavioural needs of animals and how well these are met. Consider how you can provide animals with more choice (e.g. through enrichment, spatial complexity, diet etc.) and opportunities for them to modify their environment, such as providing mice with materials they can manipulate to create better nests. Carefully form and manage social groups and try to keep these stable. Consider adaptations for animals with specific requirements such as nude mice or aged animals. Review parameters such as light cycles and intensity, temperature and humidity.
Examples of actions: Carefully go through the protocol descriptions with colleagues, including animal technologists and care staff, considering everything that will happen to the animal. Try to think about and predict how the animal might experience each event – will it hurt? Might the animal feel frustrated or afraid? Make sure the cause(s) of each potentially negative experience have been fully refined, seeking expert advice from colleagues and your local ethics committee or equivalent body.
Rehoming or release
Examples of actions: Have in place a carefully developed plan, which ensures animals are optimally physically and mentally prepared to be rehomed or released, with appropriate monitoring and follow up as far as possible. Ask your local ethics committee, Animal Welfare Body/AWERB/IACUC for advice.
AVOIDING AND REDUCING SEVERE SUFFERING
Avoiding and reducing severe suffering helps to fulfil legal requirements, reduce ethical concerns and improve scientific quality - this website will help you to achieve this.
Practical ways to reduce or avoid severe suffering include: