Routine handling of laboratory rodents - such as picking mice up by the tail, giving injections, etc. - can compromise animal welfare, reproducibility, and research data. Fortunately, these negative effects can be reduced or eliminated through refined handling techniques that improve laboratory rodent welfare.
Tunnel Handling for Mice
Strong evidence supports using tunnel handling or cupping rather than traditional tail handling in mice which causes aversion and anxiety. Tunnel handling simply involves guiding mice into a tunnel to pick them up. They can then be tipped out backwards and scruffed for procedures, as needed.
For extensive information on tunnel handling and cupping, please visit NC3Rs' How To Pick-Up A Mouse Hub. Their resources include a video tutorial, webinar, how-to videos, poster, practical guide to implementation, a summary of the evidence base, and frequently asked questions.
Although some are concerned with increased time and perceived incompatibility with routine procedures, recent research shows that brief (2s) tunnel handling during cage change is sufficient to habituate mice to tunnel handling. Once trained and competent, staff are just as quick using tunnel handling. The welfare benefits persist even when mice are subsequently restrained or given subcutaneous injections (Gouveia & Hurst, 2019).
Strong evidence also supports using rat tickling to habituate rats to handling and improve their welfare (LaFollette et al, 2017). Without proper habituation, rats can experience fear and anxiety during handling. Rat tickling mimics aspects of juvenile rat play. It can be done during the habituation period, prior to aversive procedures, and during cage change.
For extensive information on how to tickle a rat properly, take Purdue University's Rat Tickling Certificate Course or view resources on the NC3Rs Rat Tickling Hub. The certificate course includes the rationale behind rat tickling, detailed pictorial/video instruction on the hands-on technique, guidance on implementation, how to assess a rat’s response to the technique, and a series of frequently asked questions.
Although some are also concerned with increased time or incompatibility with routine procedures, recent research shows that only 15 s of tickling for 3 days can be effective (LaFollette et al., 2019). Welfare benefits persist even when rats are repeatedly given intraperitoneal injections
Training Mice & Rats to Cooperate with Procedures
A group at RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden) also have unique and effective methods for training rodents to cooperate with procedures. Their team focuses on initial handling using gentle techniques and food reinforcements to cooperate with transport, blood sampling, and oral gavage with minimal or even no restraint.
Learn more about their techniques by viewing the videos below and reading the blog post with further videos from 2019 NC3Rs IAT Symposium.