January 2021

Non-Aversive Handling Survey

Project 20_08

Mice have been, and remain the most commonly used animal in scientific research in most of the world, including in Switzerland (according to both the annual statistics on animal use in Switzerland, and the Swiss 3RCC's own report on animal use in experimentation). Not counted in those statistics is the number of mice which are only included in breeding programs, or simply do not take part in a licensed animal experimentation for other reasons. Every single one of those mice are directly handled by a person in the breeding facility or research lab; generally on a regular basis. Therefore, the manner in which mice are handled is of large interest for animal welfare and to the extent this handling could affect experimental outcomes, will be fundamentally importantant to scientific results.

For any type of mouse handling (e.g. health examination, cage changing etc), the classical approach has been to pick up the mouse by the base of the tail. However, the past decade has seen an influx of scientific studies which suggest that tail-handling often leads to increased stress and anxiety in the animal (Hurst and West, 2010), and the use of alternatives can improve the human-mouse interaction (Gouveia and Hurst, 2013), and that benefits persist even after other aversive procedures (Henderson et al., 2020).

The Swiss 3RCC supports such refinement research, and aims to promote methodologies which have been shown to be scientifically valid, robust and improve the welfare of the animal in question. As a first step towards promoting the use of non-aversive handling methods at all levels of experimentation across Switzerland, we first needed to understand the current status of such techniques in Switzerland (Project 20_08). Therefore, we designed and distributed a short survey on non-aversive handling methods across a range of Swiss institutions.

Based on the findings from this survey, the Swiss 3RCC will launch a series of internally-driven projects to address the indicated limitations and further promote the implementation of non-aversive handling approaches in both animal facilities and individual research groups.