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Playful handling as social enrichment for individually- and group-housed laboratory rats

By Sylvie Cloutier, Chelsea Baker, Kim Wahl, Jaak Panksepp, Ruth C. Newberry

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Social housing is recommended for laboratory rats because they are highly social mammals but research constraints or medical issues often demand individual housing and, when social housing is practiced, it typically involves housing with only one or two conspecifics. We hypothesized that playful social contact with humans (i.e. tickling), mimicking the dorsal contacts and pins characteristic of rat rough-and-tumble play, could act as a partial substitute for, or supplement to, conspecific social contact in situations when laboratory rats are housed individually or in pairs or triplets. Furthermore, we hypothesized that the beneficial effects of regular tickling when young would persist following discontinuation of tickling. Accordingly, we investigated the responses of juvenile male rats to handling conditions (minimally handled vs. tickled) and group size (singletons, pairs, triplets). We measured (a) production of 22- and 50-kHz ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) during a 1-min period before handling (interpreted as evidence for negative and positive affective states, respectively), (b) corticosterone levels from faecal pellets collected in the home cage, and pre- and post-treatment body weight (as measures of physiological stress), and (c) behaviour in an Open Field test (to assess anxiety). After 3 weeks of tickling for 2min/day, individually-housed rats produced more 50-kHz USVs in anticipation of handling than their minimally-handled counterparts (P

Publication Title Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Volume 143
Issue 2
Pages 85-95
ISBN/ISSN 0168-1591
DOI 10.1016/j.applanim.2012.10.006
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal welfare
  2. Environment
  3. Group size
  4. Handling
  5. Laboratory and experimental animals
  6. play