In a laboratory setting, it is important to provide housing that allows expression in a wide range of species-typical behaviors while also meeting the goals of the researcher. Substandard housing can lead to aggression, stereotypic behavior, anxiety and depression which will, in turn, affect research outcomes. Understanding the animal’s natural behavior, enables us to build quality environments that meet physical, behavioral and social needs. Proper design is critical for improved health and welfare, both of which impact scientific validity.
Making changes to current housing standards can be challenging especially since facilities may be at very different levels of current housing. Start making small changes from where your facility is currently to improve. Also keep in mind that some of the recommendations below (e.g., providing certain types of environmental enrichment) can change some specific experimental models.
Before implementing housing changes, be sure to consult the relevant scientific literature and consider the requirements of your scientific model. Each facility may require an individual approach to increasing housing standards as much as possible.
Key Natural Behaviors
- Social with strong dominance hierarchies
- Dominant male & females
- Scient markings play a role in maintaining social groupings
- Active during most of the 24-hour period
- Thigmotaxic (prefer to be in contact with the walls) & avoid open spaces including the middle of cage floors
- Do not climb and rarely jump
- Coprophagic (consume feces) & require cecatrophs
- Vitamin C required in diet
- Young born precocial with hair & eyes open
- House in groups or pairs
- Multiple tubes or hiding huts
- Solid bottom floors with a soft substrate and large quantities of hay to allow for burrowing
- Enclosure walls should be made from a material that provides god visual contact with the surrounding environment to decrease fear
- Introduce new enrichment items slowly; potential fear of novelty
- Provide gnawing opportunities such as wood blocks and chew sticks to help wear down teeth
- Sensitive to heat, their preferred temperature is 68F
- Ensure that Vitamin C is provided in the diet
- Maintain appropriate body condition score to avoid foot problems in overweight animals