Hohlbaum, K., Frahm, S., Rex, A. et al. 2020. Social enrichment by separated pair housing of male C57BL/6JRj mice. Scientific Reports 10, 11165.
Laboratory male mice are often housed individually due to aggressive behavior or experimental requirements, though social isolation can cause welfare issues. As a strategy to refine housing of male mice, we introduce the separated pair housing system. A perforated transparent wall divides the cage into two compartments and allows olfactory, acoustic, and visual communication between the two mice but prevents fighting and injuries. Long-term effects of separated pair housing on well-being and distress of adult male C57BL/6JRj mice were investigated and compared with both single- and group-housed mice. Behavioral analysis after eight weeks in three different housing systems revealed no differences in burrowing performance, social interaction, anxiety, and stress hormone concentrations. However, pair-housed mice built more complex nests compared to single-housed mice and the nest position suggested that pair-housed mice preferred the close proximity to their cage mates. Moreover, pair-housed mice showed less locomotor activity compared to group- and single-housed mice. Body weight was higher in group-housed mice. All in all, no unambiguous long-term beneficial effects of pair housing on the well-being were found. However, the findings emphasized that effects of the housing systems on behavioral, physical, and biochemical parameters must be considered in the design of animal experimental studies.