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
- Burrow digging & nest building
- Foraging & chewing (large cheek pouches)
- Ancestors were primarily solitary; Potential aggression toward conspecifics at sexual maturity especially in females
- Scent markers
- Low volume, well-enriched, stable littermate housing groups to help avoid aggression
- Tubes or huts for shelter
- Provide material for nesting & burrowing either through the bedding substrate (e.g., soft bedding) or nesting material (e.g., crinkle paper)
- Transfer a portion of the old nest into clean cage during cage change
- Feed/treats on cage floor or if using feed hopper ensure that it has large openings to accommodate hamsters larger muzzles
- Transfer food cache when changing cages to prevent further hoarding
- Chewing/gnawing substrates