Wittek, L., Touma, C., Nitezki, T. et al. 2023. Reduction in cold stress in an innovative metabolic cage housing system increases animal welfare in laboratory mice. Animals 13(18), 2866.

Housing in metabolic cages can induce a pronounced stress response. Metabolic cage systems imply housing mice on metal wire mesh for the collection of urine and feces in addition to monitoring food and water intake. Moreover, mice are single-housed, and no nesting, bedding, or enrichment material is provided, which is often argued to have a not negligible impact on animal welfare due to cold stress. We therefore attempted to reduce stress during metabolic cage housing for mice by comparing an innovative metabolic cage (IMC) with a commercially available metabolic cage from Tecniplast GmbH (TMC) and a control cage. Substantial refinement measures were incorporated into the IMC cage design. In the frame of a multifactorial approach for severity assessment, parameters such as body weight, body composition, food intake, cage and body surface temperature (thermal imaging), mRNA expression of uncoupling protein 1 (Ucp1) in brown adipose tissue (BAT), fur score, and fecal corticosterone metabolites (CMs) were included. Female and male C57BL/6J mice were single-housed for 24 h in either conventional Macrolon cages (control), IMC, or TMC for two sessions. Body weight decreased less in the IMC (females—1st restraint: −6.94%; 2nd restraint: −6.89%; males—1st restraint: −8.08%; 2nd restraint: −5.82%) compared to the TMC (females—1st restraint: −13.2%; 2nd restraint: −15.0%; males—1st restraint: −13.1%; 2nd restraint: −14.9%) and the IMC possessed a higher cage temperature (females—1st restraint: 23.7 °C; 2nd restraint: 23.5 °C; males—1st restraint: 23.3 °C; 2nd restraint: 23.5 °C) compared with the TMC (females—1st restraint: 22.4 °C; 2nd restraint: 22.5 °C; males—1st restraint: 22.6 °C; 2nd restraint: 22.4 °C). The concentration of fecal corticosterone metabolites in the TMC (females—1st restraint: 1376 ng/g dry weight (DW); 2nd restraint: 2098 ng/g DW; males—1st restraint: 1030 ng/g DW; 2nd restraint: 1163 ng/g DW) was higher compared to control cage housing (females—1st restraint: 640 ng/g DW; 2nd restraint: 941 ng/g DW; males—1st restraint: 504 ng/g DW; 2nd restraint: 537 ng/g DW). Our results show the stress potential induced by metabolic cage restraint that is markedly influenced by the lower housing temperature. The IMC represents a first attempt to target cold stress reduction during metabolic cage application thereby producing more animal welfare friendlydata.

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