Gaskill, B. N., Stottler, A. M., Garner, J. P. et al. 2017. The effect of early life experience, environment, and genetic factors on spontaneous home-cage aggression-related wounding in male C57BL/6 mice. Lab Animal 46(4), 176-184.
Aggression is a major welfare issue in mice, particularly when mice unfamiliar to each other are first placed in cages, as happens on receipt from a vendor, and following cage cleaning. Injuries from aggression are the second leading cause of unplanned euthanasia in mice, following ulcerative dermatitis. Commonly employed strategies for reducing aggression-related injury are largely anecdotal, and may even be counterproductive. Here we report a series of experiments testing potential explanations and interventions for post-shipping aggression-related injuries in C57BL/6 mice. First, we examined the effects of weaning: testing whether manipulating weaning age reduced aggression-related injuries, and if repeated mixing of weaned mice before shipping increased these injuries. Contrary to our predictions, repeated mixing did not increase post-shipping injurious aggression, and early weaning reduced aggression-related injuries. Second, we examined potential post-shipping interventions: testing whether lavender essential oil applied to the cage reduced aggression-related injuries, and whether a variety of enrichments decreased injurious aggression. Again, contrary to predictions, lavender increased wounding, and none of the enrichments reduced it. However, consistent with the effects of weaning age in the first experiment, cages with higher mean body weight showed elevated levels of aggression-related wounding. Finally, we tested whether C57BL/6 substrains and identification methods affected levels of intra-cage wounding from aggression. We found no effect of strain, but cages where mice were ear-notched for identification showed higher levels of wounding than cages where mice were tail-tattooed. Overall, these results emphasize the multifactorial nature of home-cage injurious aggression, and the importance of testing received wisdom when it comes to managing complex behavioral and welfare problems. In terms of practical recommendations to reduce aggressive wounding in the home cage, tail tattooing is recommended over ear notching and late weaning should be avoided.