Makowska, I. J., Weary, D.M. 2016. Differences in anticipatory behaviour between rats (Rattus norvegicus) housed in standard versus semi-naturalistic laboratory environments. PLoS ONE 11(1), e0147595.

Laboratory rats are usually kept in relatively small cages, but research has shown that they prefer larger and more complex environments. The physiological, neurological and health effects of standard laboratory housing are well established, but fewer studies have addressed the sustained emotional impact of a standard cage environment. One method of assessing affective states in animals is to look at the animals’ anticipatory behaviour between the presentation of a cue signalling the arrival of a reward and the arrival of that reward. The primary aim of this study was to use anticipatory behaviour to assess the affective state experienced by female rats a) reared and housed long-term in a standard laboratory cage versus a semi-naturalistic environment, and b) before and after treatment with an antidepressant or an anxiolytic. A secondary aim was to add to the literature on anticipatory behaviour by describing and comparing the frequency and duration of individual elements of anticipatory behaviour displayed by rats reared in these two systems. In all experiments, total behavioural frequency was higher in standard-housed rats compared to rats from the semi-naturalistic condition, suggesting that standard-housed rats were more sensitive to rewards and experiencing poorer welfare than rats reared in the semi-naturalistic environment. What rats did in anticipation of the reward also differed between housing treatments, with standard-housed rats mostly rearing and rats from the semi-naturalistic condition mostly sitting facing the direction of the upcoming treat. Drug interventions had no effect on the quantity or form of anticipatory behaviour, suggesting that the poorer welfare experienced by standard-housed rats was not analogous to depression or anxiety, or alternatively that the drug interventions were ineffective. This study adds to mounting evidence that standard laboratory housing for rats compromises rat welfare, and provides further scientific support for recommendations that current minimum standards be raised.

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