Traditionally, mice are picked up by the base of the tail to remove them from caging during cage changing and for procedures. However, picking mice up by the tail, even for only 2s during cage change, causes negative behavioral and physiological (Ghosal et al. 2015; Gouveia & Hurst 2019) effects. Here we offer evidence that indicates refined handling methods (i.e., tunnel handling or cupping) are beneficial to mouse welfare (Hurst & West 2010; Nakamura & Suzuki 2018; Clarkson et al. 2020) & improves quality of scientific data (Gouveia & Hurst 2017).
Ease of Handling
Individual research laboratories and entire institutions across the globe are switching their mouse handling practices to replace tail handling methods with refined methods. They say there is a huge difference in the behavior of the mice. And once they switch, they say they’d never go back.
In the United Kingdom, over 60% of institutions use refined handling methods exclusively – no tail handling allowed. In the United States and Canada more and more institutions are making the switch. So far, we know that AstraZeneca, University of Florida, University of Ottawa, Wilfrid Laurier University, University of Kentucky, ITR Laboratories, LakeHead University and Xenon Pharmaceuticals have fully switched. Institutions that are in the process of switching to refined methods include GSK, University of Ottawa, and The Center for Phenogenomics. Should your institution be added to one of these lists? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get added!
Tunnel handling simply involves guiding mice into a tunnel to pick them up out of their cage. They can then be tipped out of the tube backward and scruffed for procedures, as needed. The benefits of tunnel handling remain even if mice are subsequently given injections, have blood drawn, or undergo gas anesthesia.
Cupping involves picking mice up with cupped hands. It does not require any new equipment but does require a bit more training of mice.
See How to conduct refined handling for more information on tunnel and cupping methods.
There have been 19 publications supporting the benefits of refined handling improving welfare & scientific quality including:
See our Publications page for more.
Once staff and mice are adequately trained, husbandry tasks and experimental procedures typically do not take any longer than with tail handling. For cup handling, typically some habituation for the mice is required initially so it may take longer initially.
Preliminary data from the second round of our survey on refined handling use allowed us to ask individuals about common concerns to using refined handling and how these factors changed after implementing refined handling.
We found that the majority of respondents (<60%) report that cage change and handling time decreased, or stayed the same, after switching to refined handling.
Recent data from a study by Arnott et al. (2023) at AMGEN (full poster linked here), found that tunnel handling took less time than tail handling for a number of mouse strains.
The only outlier were Balb/c mice. This is a great example that different strains may need different refined handling techniques. Balb/c have been reported to be easily picked up using cupping. This may also provide an explanation for the potential increase in cage change time/handling in the results shown above.