of Poor Welfare in Laboratory Rats"
Authors of original
article: E.G. Patterson? Kane, M. Hunt, and D. Harper
Originally published in Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science
Volume 2, Number 2, 1999*
Rodents, most of the animals used in
laboratory experiments, are not covered by regulations under the
federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Animal protectionists have
always opposed their exclusion and recently have renewed efforts
to include them.
Some scientists are conducting research on ways to improve the
lives of rodents in laboratories, even if their research, if
implemented, would not end the animals' suffering. Some changes
that would enhance the well-being of mice, rats, and other rodents
in laboratories are obvious, but some are quite different from
what we might assume.
Laboratory scientists often must be presented with strong
evidence-and often new regulations-before they will consider
treating animals in their laboratories differently. This makes
improving the animals' plight slow, but once a body of research
documents the effects of different methods, experimenters are left
with no scientific basis for resisting change.
The authors, psychologists at Victoria University of Wellington,
New Zealand, enriched rats' cage conditions in varying degrees. In
the most highly enriched conditions, small groups of rats lived in
cages containing two large nesting boxes, a cardboard box, a
running wheel, several plastic containers, straw, and tissue
paper. The objects' and food pellets' positions were changed every
10 days, and four different toys from a pool of 120 were placed in
the cage each day.
In the standard situation used for comparison, two rats lived in
smaller cages with a plastic bottom half containing wood shavings
and a wire top half. These cages had no boxes, no materials
besides the wood shavings, and no toys.
In an intelligence test, the rats living in enriched conditions
performed better than those in standard conditions, and the rats
in standard conditions performed at the same level as those housed
singly. The rats living in enriched conditions also adjusted more
rapidly in an "open?field" test, a situation in which rats
typically respond with mild stress and fear.
This shows that (1) rats living in conditions typical of many
laboratories are harmed in that they develop into less intelligent
and more anxious animals, and (2) scientific results are
confounded because phenomena under study, such as intelligence and
emotional functioning, are negatively affected by these living
Psychologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, P.O. Box 1297,
Washington Grove, MD 20880-1297; 301-963-4751
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