Hobbiesiefken, U., Mieske, P., Lewejohann, L. et al. 2021. Evaluation of different types of enrichment - their usage and effect on home cage behavior in female mice. PLoS ONE 16(12), e0261876.
Numerous studies ascertained positive effects of enriched environments on the well-being of laboratory animals including behavioral, physiological and neurochemical parameters. Conversely, such conclusions imply impaired animal welfare and health in barren husbandry conditions. Moreover, inappropriate housing of laboratory animals may deteriorate the quality of scientific data. Recommendations for housing laboratory animals stipulate that cages should be enriched to mitigate adverse effects of barren housing. In this context, it is not only unclear what exactly is meant by enrichment, but also how the animals themselves interact with the various items on offer. Focal animal observation of female C57BL/6J mice either housed in conventional (CON) or enriched (ENR) conditions served to analyze the impact of enriching housing on welfare related behavior patterns including stereotypical, maintenance, active social, and inactive behaviors. CON conditions resembled current usual housing of laboratory mice, whereas ENR mice received varying enrichment items including foraging, housing and structural elements, and a running disc. Active and inactive use of these elements was quantitatively assessed. CON mice showed significantly more inactive and stereotypical behavior than ENR mice. ENR mice frequently engaged with all enrichment elements, whereby riddles to obtain food reward and the running disc preferably served for active interactions. Offering a second level resulted in high active and inactive interactions. Structural elements fixed at the cagetop were least attractive for the mice. Overall, the presented data underline the positive welfare benefits of enrichment and that mice clearly differentiate between distinct enrichment types, demonstrating that the perspective of the animals themselves should also be taken into account when specifying laboratory housing conditions. This is particularly important, as the ensuring of animal welfare is an essential prerequisite for reliable, reproducible, and scientifically meaningful results.