Giménez-Llort, L., Torres-Lista, V. 2021. Social nesting, animal welfare, and disease monitoring. Animals 11(4), 1079.
The assessment of welfare and disease progression in animal models is critical. Most tools rely on evaluating individual subjects, whereas social behaviors, also sensitive to acute illness, chronic diseases, or mental health, are scarcely monitored because they are complex and time-consuming. We propose the evaluation of social nesting, a species-typical behavior naturally occurring in standard housing conditions, for such behavioral monitoring. We provide an example of its use to evaluate social deficits and the long-term effects of neonatal tactile-proprioceptive sensorial stimulation from postnatal day 1 to 21, in male and female adult 3xTg-AD mice for Alzheimer’s disease compared to sex- and age-matched non-transgenic (NTg) counterparts with normal aging. Social nesting was sensitive to genotype (worse in 3xTg-AD mice), sex (worse in males), profile, and treatment (distinct time to observe the maximum score and incidence of the perfect nest). Since social nesting can be easily included in housing routines, this neuroethological approach can be useful for animal welfare, monitoring the disease’s progress, and evaluating potential risk factors and effects of preventive/therapeutical strategies. Finally, the noninvasive, painless, simple, short time, and low-cost features of this home-cage monitoring are advantages that make social nesting feasible to be successfully implemented in most animal department settings.