Housing and husbandry

Hamster in cardboard tube The quality of housing and husbandry has a major impact on laboratory animal health and welfare. There is an expanding body of scientific literature to demonstrate that environments that do not meet animals' physical, behavioural and/or social needs can result in changes in physiology and to abnormal behaviour (e.g. stereotypies) which not only compromise animal welfare but also influence the validity and reproducibility of the scientific data obtained.

Housing and husbandry should allow animals to perform the widest possible range of normal, species-typical behaviour. Consideration should be given not only to the quality of accommodation but also the quantity of space provided and emphasis should be placed on exceeding the legal minima.

Different species have different requirements and a sound knowledge of natural history and behaviour is essential if appropriate accommodation is to be provided. It is important to also take account of the animal's age, health and reproductive status, and the impact of scientific procedures, as all of these can influence what is optimal housing and husbandry. Regular review of accommodation, husbandry practices and environmental enrichment is essential for ensuring that improvements are made where necessary.

Click here to view video of the responses of laboratory-raised rats on release into the wild. Despite many generations of breeding in captivity, these animals retain the capacity to perform many behaviours that the laboratory environment prevents. (Quicktime, 9.3MB, 4 mins; Berdoy M, 2002, The Laboratory Rat: A Natural History). For more information see www.ratlife.org

Annex III to the new European Directive 2010/63/EU sets out mandatory minimum standards of accommodation and care (e.g. minimum enclosure sizes and space allocations) for commonly used laboratory animals. These follow Appendix A to the Council of Europe Convention ETS 123, which was revised in 2006. Whilst not mandatory, Appendix A contains supplementary guidance on the accomodation, care and welfare of laboratory animal species (e.g. on enrichment and the ambient environment).

In the UK, persons working under the UK Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 are required to comply with the minimum provisions set out in the Home Office Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals Used in Scientific Procedures and Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Animals in Designated Breeding and Supplying Establishments. As part of the transposition of Directive 2010/63/EU into UK law, these two Codes will be replaced by a new Code of Practice on the Care and Accommodation of Animals Bred, Supplied and Used for Scientific Purposes - the draft is available on the Home Office website. 

This Information Portal provides access to key information and resources on housing and husbandry for laboratory animals:

Beagles in pen designed to meet the behavioural needs of the dogDog pens designed to meet the behavioural needs of the dog. The pens are linked in pairs with access to an outdoor area. Pen subdivisions allow complexity and choice. Raised platforms offer visibility across the room. Suspended chews are provided as a means of environmental enrichment. A dog bed with fleecy bedding offers a comfortable resting place.




  • LAREF - Laboratory Animal Refinement and Enrichment Forum -- For exchange of experiences about ways to improve the conditions under which laboratory animals are housed and handled.
    Open Link


  • 2007 TurnKey Conference (10 Apr 2007 )
    Open Link

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