Conventional laboratory housing increases morbidity and mortality in research rodents: results of a meta-analysis Cait, Jessica; Cait, Alissa; Scott, Wilder; Winder, Charlotte B.; Mason, Georgia J.
Background Over 120 million mice and rats are used annually in research, conventionally housed in shoebox-sized cages that restrict natural behaviours (e.g. nesting and burrowing). This can reduce physical fitness, impair thermoregulation and reduce welfare (e.g. inducing abnormal stereotypic behaviours). In humans, chronic stress has biological costs, increasing disease risks and potentially shortening life. Using a pre-registered protocol ( https://atrium.lib.uoguelph.ca/xmlui/handle/10214/17955 ), this meta-analysis therefore tested the hypothesis that, compared to rodents in ‘enriched’ housing that better meets their needs, conventional housing increases stress-related morbidity and all-cause mortality. Results Comprehensive searches (via Ovid, CABI, Web of Science, Proquest and SCOPUS on May 24 2020) yielded 10,094 publications. Screening for inclusion criteria (published in English, using mice or rats and providing ‘enrichments’ in long-term housing) yielded 214 studies (within 165 articles, using 6495 animals: 59.1% mice; 68.2% male; 31.8% isolation-housed), and data on all-cause mortality plus five experimentally induced stress-sensitive diseases: anxiety, cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression and stroke. The Systematic Review Center for Laboratory animal Experimentation (SYRCLE) tool assessed individual studies’ risks of bias. Random-effects meta-analyses supported the hypothesis: conventional housing significantly exacerbated disease severity with medium to large effect sizes: cancer (SMD = 0.71, 95% CI = 0.54–0.88); cardiovascular disease (SMD = 0.72, 95% CI = 0.35–1.09); stroke (SMD = 0.87, 95% CI = 0.59–1.15); signs of anxiety (SMD = 0.91, 95% CI = 0.56–1.25); signs of depression (SMD = 1.24, 95% CI = 0.98–1.49). It also increased mortality rates (hazard ratio = 1.48, 95% CI = 1.25–1.74; relative median survival = 0.91, 95% CI = 0.89–0.94). Meta-regressions indicated that such housing effects were ubiquitous across species and sexes, but could not identify the most impactful improvements to conventional housing. Data variability (assessed via coefficient of variation) was also not increased by ‘enriched’ housing. Conclusions Conventional housing appears sufficiently distressing to compromise rodent health, raising ethical concerns. Results also add to previous work to show that research rodents are typically CRAMPED (cold, rotund, abnormal, male-biased, poorly surviving, enclosed and distressed), raising questions about the validity and generalisability of the data they generate. This research was funded by NSERC, Canada.
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