Implementing your findings about enrichment

Whatever the results of your study, you will be able to use your findings to benefit your animals. Image credit: University of Cambridge.

Carrying out your evaluation of enrichment is just the beginning; the next step is using what you have learned to benefit the animals in your care.

Your results may have:

The process of implementing enrichment may be complicated by factors like availability, budget and the openness of your colleagues to change. Our FAQs section addresses some of these issues. You can become a force for positive change by sharing your findings and, regardless of whether your findings were positive, negative or inconclusive, we would welcome hearing about the results of your studies or any challenges you have faced – email tech3Rs@nc3rs.org.uk.

If your findings showed a positive effect of enrichment on welfare

If you found that the animals you observed responded well to the changes you made, it is likely that you will want to implement them across more animal cages or tanks.

You should introduce the new enrichment at appropriate times and monitor animals carefully in the short- and long-terms. You can do this by:

  • Adapting routine health and welfare assessment protocols to pick-up any negative effects that may be related to the changes in the short to long-terms.
     
  • Backing up routine assessments with regular spot checks to ensure that enrichment items continue to meet the animals’ needs, as these can change over time.
     
  • Sharing your findings, both inside and outside of your facility, and discussing your results with others. Your knowledge can be used to improve the welfare of additional animals of the same species and strain.
     
  • Keep thinking of refinements – you may be able to improve welfare further, and your findings could inform how you do this.

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If your findings showed a negative effect of enrichment on welfare

You may have found that the changes you evaluated negatively affected animal welfare. This could have been evident through increased incidents of aggression or animals becoming tangled in enrichment items, for example. In this instance you should:

  • Revert the changes and carry out continual monitoring if necessary (e.g. to ensure any issues with aggression or territoriality are resolved).
     
  • Share your findings, both inside and outside of your facility, and discuss your results with others. Your knowledge can be used to prevent animals being provided unsuitable enrichment.
     
  • Consider how you could alter enrichment or husbandry on the basis of your findings.
     
  • Keep trying! Different strains of a species may all have the same enrichment needs (e.g. for a nest box or bedding) but the exact kind of items that are suitable can vary.

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If your findings were inconclusive

If you did not observe any notable difference between animals with enrichment and those without you should:

  • Review your results carefully; discuss them with others within and outside of your institution in case there are unexpected reasons why the findings were inconclusive.
     
  • Keep trying! If you were aiming to address a specific behaviour indicative of poor welfare (e.g. a stereotypy), it is particularly important to review and retry. 
     
  • Remember that enrichment needs will change over time, e.g. at different life stages.
     
  • Be aware that that different strains of a species may all have the same enrichment needs (e.g. for a shelter or nesting material), but the exact kind of items that are suitable can vary.

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If your evaluation highlighted the need for further investigation

You may have noticed issues or behaviours that that require further attention. It is not unusual to learn something unexpected in the course of a study. If this is the case, you should discuss with your colleagues to decide on your next steps.

Your initial findings may indicate a clear next step. For example, you may have determined that the animals use the enrichment and now you want to know how they use it or whether they prefer one enrichment item to another. If this is the case, revisit the example protocols and decide which approach is appropriate for further investigation. If the findings of a basic study highlight something particularly novel or interesting, you should strongly consider carrying out a more robust study in collaboration with others.

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