UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Understanding the welfare of rats living in standard versus semi-naturalistic laboratory environments Makowska, Inez Joanna


Rats are one of the most commonly used animals in research. Differences in rat housing lead to differences in brain, behaviour, physiology and health. These differences can also affect rat welfare and the validity of data obtained from these animals. Few studies have assessed the consequences of housing rats in standard laboratory cages compared to more complex, naturalistic environments; fewer still have assessed these consequences in females, or after more than a few weeks of differential housing. The aim of my thesis was to assess the sustained welfare consequences of housing female rats in standard versus semi-naturalistic laboratory conditions. The psychological well-being of animals is central to the concept of animal welfare, so Chapter 2 provides a review of the scientific methods of assessing affective states in animals, how these methods have been applied to rats, and what the results can tell us about rats’ experience of various emotional states. Chapter 3 investigated rats’ propensity to engage in behaviours that are not possible in standard laboratory cages: burrowing, climbing and standing upright. Results indicated that burrowing and standing upright may be especially important to rats. Chapter 4 assessed the sustained affective consequences of standard versus semi-naturalistic housing using an anticipatory behaviour test. Results indicated that standard-housed rats were experiencing poorer welfare than the semi-naturalistic-housed rats. These studies were not designed to test differences in health between the two housing conditions, but given the very limited amount of research on the long-term health effects of differential housing in rats, Chapter 5 documented differences in body weight and development of naturally-occurring tumours. Standard-housed rats were much heavier than semi-naturalistic-housed rats, but there were no differences in the rate of tumour development. Collectively, these results indicate that, compared to the semi-naturalistic housing assessed in this thesis, standard laboratory housing for rats compromises rat welfare by 1) preventing the performance of important natural behaviours; 2) leading to negative affective states; and 3) leading to overweight animals predisposed to developing other health issues. Implications for rat welfare and the quality of the science obtained from standard-housed rats are discussed, and recommendations are provided.

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