Assessing animal welfare is an integral part of implementing refinement alternatives. Welfare assessment information can be obtained from:
- Routine colony management data - such as longevity, growth rate, susceptibility to disease, reproduction and infant care, wound healing, coat and body condition, body shape and posture.
- Structured behavioural assessments of the animals’ behavioural repertoire and activity budgets (including grooming, sleeping, play, social behaviours, facial expressions and vocalizations). This requires an understanding of what is normal behaviour for the species and individual animal.
- Physiological data from instrumentation - such as heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, serum levels of stress hormones (e.g., cortisol), and immunological functions such as rates of lymphocyte proliferation and suppression of lymphocyte activity.
The use of observational checklists or score sheets for scoring the animal's condition and behaviour provides an objective basis on which to assess welfare. Score sheets help ensure that specific observations are not overlooked and help improve observational skills, particularly with the smaller laboratory animals. However, score sheets do not cover all abnormalities or observations, and cannot replace a thorough examination of the animal.
Welfare Assessment in Fish
Assessing fish welfare presents challenges because their responses to adverse conditions are not always displayed. In addition, observational restrictions are imposed by the housing environment. Some features of welfare assessment that are specific to fish include:
- weight gain or growth rate - a slower than normal rate of weight gain may be a more sensitive indicator of welfare than weight loss
- environmental parameters - lack of attention to environmental criteria (such as temperature and water quality) can precipitate normal physiological anorexia
- feeding behaviour - a change in feeding activity or in feed consumption of the experimental unit (the tank) is a more immediate and sensitive indicator of abnormal environment or health than weight changes
This section has been adapted from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) and CCAC guidelines.
For more information on welfare assessment, the following resources may be useful.
- Animal Welfare Committee (2008) Guidelines to Promote the Wellbeing of Animals Used for Scientific Purposes. Canberra, Australia: National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
- Assessing the Health and Welfare of Laboratory Animals (AHWLA) (2008) Basic Assessment.
- Online tutorial
- Committee on Recognition and Alleviation of Distress in Laboratory Animals, National Research Council (NRC) (2008) Recognition and Alleviation of Distress in Laboratory Animals. Washington DC: National Academies Press.
- Online book
- Gaskill B.N., Karas A.Z., Garner J.P. and Pritchett-Corning K.R. (2013) Nest building as an indicator of health and welfare in laboratory mice. Journal of Visualized Experiments 82:e51012, doi:10.3791/51012
- Keating S.C.J., Thomas A.A., Flecknell P.A. and Leach M.C. (2012) Evaluation of EMLA Cream for preventing pain during tattooing of rabbits: change in physiological, behavioural and facial expression responses. PLoS 7(9).
- Mason G. and Rushen J. (2005) Stereotypic Animal Behaviour: fundamentals and applications to welfare, 2nd ed. Wallingford UK: CABI.
- Video and images of stereotypic behaviour
- National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement and Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs) (2014) Welfare assessment
- Wells D., Playle L., Enser B., Flecknell P., Gardiner M., Holland J., Howard B., Hubrecht R., Humphreys K., Jackson I., Lane N., Maconochie M., Mason G., Morton D., Raymond R., Robinson V., Smith J. and Watt N. (2006) Assessing the welfare of genetically altered mice. Laboratory Animals 40(2):111-114.
- Dawkins M. (2004) Using behaviour to assess animal welfare. Animal Welfare 13(Suppl.):S3-S7.
- Fraser D. (2008) Understanding Animal Welfare: The Science in its Cultural Context. Chichester UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
- Jegstrup I., Thon R., Hansen A.K. and Ritskes Hoitinga M. (2003) Characterization of transgenic mice—a comparison of protocols for welfare evaluation and phenotype characterization of mice with a suggestion on a future certificate of instruction. Laboratory Animals 37(1):1-9.
- Leach M.C., Thornton P.D. and Main D.C.J. (2008) Identification of appropriate measures for the assessment of laboratory mouse welfare. Animal Welfare 17(2):161-170.
- Mason G. and Latham N. (2004) Can't stop, won't stop: is stereotypy a reliable animal welfare indicator? Animal Welfare 13(Suppl.):S57-S69.
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