Refined Mouse Handling Overview

What is refined mouse handling?

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).

Animal Welfare

Scientific Quality

Ease of Handling

Job Satisfaction

How common is refined 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, and LakeHead University 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 to get added!

Tunnel handling vs. cupping

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.

Tunnel handling


What is the evidence that supports the use of refined handling?

There have been 19 publications supporting the benefits of refined handling improving welfare & scientific quality including:

  • Reducing anxiety as measured by elevated plus maze, social novelty test, open field test, and light-dark box test (shown in 10 papers including Hurst & West 2010)
  • Reducing depressive-like behavior as measured by sucrose reward, resilience to negative events (Clarkson et al. 2018, 2020), forced swim test and burrowing test (Sensini et al. 2020)
  • Reducing chronic stress as measured by adrenal gland size (Clarkson et al. 2020)
  • Increasing test reliability (Hurst & West, 2017)
  • Improving physiological parameters such as improving glucose tolerance & reducing blood glucose & corticosterone (Ghosal et al. 2015; Ono et al. 2016)
  • Increasing voluntary interaction with the handler (shown in 10 papers including Hurst & West 2010)
  • Improving breeding as measured by larger pups (0.75g), more pups born (1), weaned (1.5 ), and longer breeding productive lifespan (20%; Hull et al., 2022).

For a list of the publications supporting refined mouse handling see our Publications page.