Ruvira, S., Rodríguez-Rodríguez, P., Cañas, S. et al. 2023. Evaluation of parameters which influence voluntary ingestion of supplements in rats. Animals 13(11), 1827.

Drug safety and efficacy studies frequently use oral gavage, but repetitive usage may cause problems. Administration through voluntary ingestion represents an opportunity for refinement. We aimed to develop a protocol for voluntary ingestion of gelatin-based supplements in rats, assessing the influence of age, sex, fasting (4 h), and additives (vanilla, VF; sucralose, S), and to test it in lactating dams. Three-week-old and 5-month-old Sprague-Dawley rats were placed individually in an empty cage containing a gelatin cube and trained daily (5 days/week), recording the day the whole cube was consumed (latency). Rats trained prior to gestation were offered a gelatin containing 250 mg/kg cocoa shell extract (CSE) during lactation. Rats that did not eat the cube after 8 training days were considered non-habituated, with a proportion similar in young males (7.1%), young females (11.1%), and adult females (10.3%), but significantly higher in adult males (39.3%). Excluding non-habituated rats, latency was 2–3 days, without differences between young and adult rats (p = 0.657) or between males and females (p = 0.189). VF or VF + S in the gelatin did not modify latency, while fasting significantly reduced it in females (p = 0.007) but not in males (p = 0.501). During lactation, trained females ate the CSE-gelatin within 1–5 min without litter problems. Conclusions: Acceptance of a gelatin-based supplement is negatively influenced by male sex, facilitated by fasting, and not modified by additives. Training is remembered after 2 months and does not interfere with lactation. Gelatin-based voluntary ingestion is suitable to administer drugs that need to pass through the digestive system, ensuring adequate dosage, and is important to detect non-habituated rats prior to the study. The current protocol may be implemented by training the rats in their own cage.

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