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Simply a nest? Effects of different enrichments on stereotypic and anxiety-related behaviour in mice

By Alexandra Nam-Mi Gross, Anna Katarina Julia Engel, Hanno Würbel

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Improving the home cages of laboratory mice by environmental enrichment has been widely used to reduce cage stereotypies and anxiety-related behaviour in behavioural tests. However, enrichment studies differ substantially in type, complexity and variation of enrichments. Therefore, it is unclear whether success depends on specific enrichment items, environmental complexity, or novelty associated with enrichment. The aim of this study was therefore to dissociate the effects of environmental complexity and novelty on stereotypy development and compare these effects with the provision of nesting material alone. Thus, 54 freshly weaned male ICR (CD-1) mice were pairwise allocated to standard laboratory cages enriched in three different ways (n=18 per group). Treatment 1 consisted of cotton wool as nesting material. Treatments 2 and 3 were structurally more complex, including a shelter and a climbing structure as additional resources. To render complexity and novelty independent of the specific enrichment items, three shelters (cardboard house, plastic tunnel, red plastic house) and three climbing structures (ladder, rope, wooden bars) were used to create nine different combinations of enrichment. In treatment 2 (complexity), each pair of mice was assigned to a different combination that remained constant throughout 9 weeks, whereas in treatment 3 (novelty), each pair of mice was exposed to all 9 combinations in turn by changing them weekly in a pseudorandom order. After 9 weeks, stereotypic behaviour in the home cage was assessed from video recordings, and anxiety-related behaviour was assessed in two behavioural tests (elevated zero-maze, open-field). However, no significant differences in stereotypy scores and no consistent differences in anxiety-related behaviours were found between the three groups. These findings indicate that within standard laboratory cages neither complexity nor novelty of simple enrichments have additional effects on stereotypic and anxiety-related behaviour beyond those of adequate nesting material.

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 134
Issue 3
Pages 239-245
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.06.020
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Anxiety
  3. Environment
  4. Mice
  5. novelty