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Care & Techniques

Welfare Assessment

Welfare Assessment

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.

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