Impact of environmental enrichment in mice. 1: Effect of housing conditions on body weight, organ weights and haematology in different strains.
Tsai, P.P., Pachowsky, U., Stelzer, H.D. and Hackbarth, H.
Laboratory Animals, 36(4), 411-419 (2002).
Currently, environmental enrichment is a very common means of improving animal wellbeing, especially for laboratory animals. Although environmental enrichment seems to be a possible way for improving the well-being of animals, the consideration of housing laboratory animals should not only focus solely on animal well-being, manpower and economics but also on the precision and accuracy of the experimental results. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effects of enriched cages (nest box, nesting material, climbing bar) on body weight, haematological data and final organ weights. BALB/c, C57BL/6 and A/J mice, originated from Harlan Winkelmann, were used for the experiments-16 animals of each strain. Animals at 3 weeks of age were marked and separated randomly to enriched or non-enriched cages, in groups of four, half for each housing condition. Both cages were type III Makrolon cages, only the enriched cages contained a nest box, a wood bar for climbing and nesting material. Animals were kept in a clean animal room under specific pathogen free (SPF) conditions. Body weights were recorded every week. Blood samples were collected at 14 weeks of age (white blood cells (WBC), red blood cells (RBC), haemoglobin (HGB), and haematocrit (HCT) were analysed). At 15 weeks of age, the animals were euthanized by CO2 in their home cages, and final body weight and organ weights (heart, liver, kidney, adrenal, spleen and uterus) were recorded immediately. Although nearly all the test variables were not affected by environmental enrichment in their mean values, the enriched group showed higher coefficients of variation in many variables, and strain differences of both housing conditions were not consistent. The influences of enrichment were shown to be strain- and test-dependent. Such effects may lead to an increase in the number of animals which is necessary or may change the experimental results, especially when a study, using enriched housing conditions, focuses on strain differences. Since the same enrichment design can result in different influences, a positive or a negative or no adverse 'effect, due to the strain and the variables studied, researchers need to collect more information before enrichment designs are introduced into experimental plans.