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Behavioral evaluation of the psychological welfare and environmental requirements of agricultural research animals: Theory, measurement, ethics, and practical implications.


King, L.A.

Ilar Journal, 44(3), 211-221 (2003).

The welfare of agricultural research animals relies not only on measures of good health but also on the presence of positive emotional states and the absence of aversive or unpleasant subjective states such as fear, frustration, or association with pain. Although subjective states are not inherently observable, their interaction with motivational states can be measured through assessment of motivated behavior, which indicates the priority animals place on obtaining or avoiding specific environmental stimuli and thus allows conclusions regarding the impact of housing, husbandry, and experimental procedures on animal welfare. Preference tests and consumer demand models demonstrate that animal choices are particularly valuable when integrated with other behavioral and physiological measurements. Although descriptive assessments of apparently abnormal behavior such as stereotypies and "vacuum behaviors" provide indications of potentially impoverished environments, they should be used with some caution in drawing welfare conclusions. The development of stereotypies may in some cases be linked to psychiatric dysfunction and reflect underlying neurophysiological impairments, which have implications for the ability to perform flexible behavior and thus the quality of research data provided by this kind of behavioral measurement (e.g., in pharmaceutical research). Environmental modifications, commonly termed "enrichment," can have diverse consequences for cognitive function, physiological responses, health, psychological welfare, and research data. Simple practical modifications of housing, husbandry, and experimental design are suggested to improve the psychological welfare of agricultural research animals in accordance with the principles of refining, reducing, and replacing (the "3Rs"), which underlie US Public Health Service Policy, and prevailing public ethics.