Gouveia, K., Hurst, J. L. 2019. Improving the practicality of using non-aversive handling methods to reduce background stress and anxiety in laboratory mice. Scientific Reports 9, 20305.
Handling can stimulate stress and anxiety in laboratory animals that negatively impacts welfare and introduces a confounding factor in many areas of research. Picking up mice by the tail is a major source of handling stress that results in strong aversion to the handler, while mice familiarised with being picked up in a tunnel or cupped on the open hand show low stress and anxiety, and actively seek interaction with their handlers. Here we investigate the duration and frequency of handling required for effective familiarisation with these non-aversive handling methods, and test whether this is sufficient to prevent aversion and anxiety when animals then experience immobilisation and a mild procedure (subcutaneous injection). Very brief handling (2 s) was sufficient to familiarise mice with tunnel handling, even when experienced only during cage cleaning. Brief but more frequent handling was needed for familiarisation with cup handling, while pick up by tail induced strong aversion even when handling was brief and infrequent. Experience of repeated immobilisation and subcutaneous injection did not reverse the positive effects of tunnel handling. Our findings demonstrate that replacing tail with tunnel handling during routine cage cleaning and procedures provides a major refinement with little if any cost for familiarisation.