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Applying the 3Rs: A Case Study on Evidence and Perceptions Relating to Rat Cage Height in the UK

1
School of Geography and the Environment, University of Oxford, Oxford OX1 3QY, UK
2
Research Animals Department, RSPCA, Wilberforce Way, Southwater, West Sussex RH13 9RS, UK
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1104; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani9121104
Received: 31 October 2019 / Revised: 29 November 2019 / Accepted: 3 December 2019 / Published: 9 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue 60 Years of the Three Rs and Their Impact on Animal Welfare)
The use of animals in research and testing in the UK is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which sets out how animal experiments must be licensed and regulated. Within this, the Code of Practice currently allows laboratory rats to be housed in cages that are 20 cm high, even though adults can rear up to 30 cm. Most adult rats therefore cannot stand upright in ‘standard’ cages. There is evidence that the ability to stand and rear up on the hind legs is important for rat welfare and enables them to explore their environment. Rats unable to stand on their hind legs in ‘standard’ cages will compensate for this with increased lateral stretching, which could indicate discomfort due to the inability to stretch fully and to exercise. Some animal research establishments in the industry recognise that housing rats so that they cannot stand up is a welfare (and scientific) issue, and have already invested in higher cages that allow rats to rear to their full height. Others, however, have not, citing a number of health and safety, financial, animal welfare, and scientific concerns. By surveying a number of different establishments, we identified the main barriers to adopting higher cages and ways to overcome them.
This article investigates the barriers to implementing higher caging in animal research establishments in the UK. The use of animals in research and testing in the UK is regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, which sets out how animal experiments must be licensed and regulated. Within this, the Code of Practice currently allows laboratory rats to be housed in cages that are 20 cm high, even though adults can rear up to 30 cm. Most adult rats therefore cannot stand upright in ‘standard’ cages. We found that the main factors hindering the implementation of higher caging were classified into five different groups; health and safety, financial, animal welfare, scientific, and ‘human’. Suggestions to overcome these barriers are provided, as well as alternative animal welfare changes that can be put into place. We conclude that much of the desired evidence for moving to higher cages is already available, and therefore the focus should be on education and improving access to the existing evidence, in order to encourage facilities to work around existing financial and health and safety concerns. View Full-Text
Keywords: animal welfare; rat; animal husbandry; refinement; 3Rs; laboratory animals; rat welfare; anthropomorphism; behaviour change; evidence animal welfare; rat; animal husbandry; refinement; 3Rs; laboratory animals; rat welfare; anthropomorphism; behaviour change; evidence
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Mazhary, H.; Hawkins, P. Applying the 3Rs: A Case Study on Evidence and Perceptions Relating to Rat Cage Height in the UK. Animals 2019, 9, 1104.

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