Mouse cage enrichment
Sink-plugs, metal rings and plastic pipes give the mice shown in this video environmental enrichment. I asked animal technologist Andrew Newman what started him experimenting with enrichment articles. Andrew explained that he was stimulated by a workshop run by Sabrina Brando who runs a consultancy (AnimalConcepts) specialising in improving animal welfare. There is also a push from the Home Office for continuing improvements in animal welfare.
Like any animal tech, Andrew works within financial and practical constraints. He wants flexibility and systems that can work within standards cages used by mice, hamsters and young rats. Over his working life he has worked with pretty much everything except horses and reptiles, so he has a wealth of experience to bring to the experiments with welfare.
I asked Andrew what he had not expected and what he had noted so far. He said he was surprised that mice climbed through the metal rings, and did so so readily that the sound of rings clashing could be a welfare issue itself! They seemed to prefer pipes with a smaller diameter and sought out the more complex arrangements of piping.
Because of the need to maintain cleanliness by autoclaving standard plumbing pipes probably are not suitable for general use because they deform in the heat, but Andrew is experimenting with different materials. Metal rings, rungs and running wheels which encourage exercise are practical, and utilise otherwise wasted space in the middle of the cage.
Andrew and Sabrina now collaborate and some of their preliminary results can be seen in the IAT journal, Animal Technology and Welfare, December 2014, p.219-222.