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Going beyond the guidelines: How Envigo invests in animal welfare

shutterstock_605226563As research has evolved, so have best practices for promoting animal health and welfare.
Ani Obaya, Director of Veterinary Sciences EMEA, shares how she's seen animal welfare shift over the last decade and how these changes have helped her deliver more reliable results for researchers.

Providing animal welfare guidance

Animal welfare and health are always a top priority for Envigo. Before joining the team 15 years ago, Ani worked as a veterinarian in general practice. At Envigo CRS, she worked performing several types of specialized procedures with a variety of laboratory animals. She moved to Envigo RMS two years ago, where much of her veterinarian work also involved animal welfare practices and ethics. Drawing from this experience, she now solely focuses on animal welfare and health.

"My team supervises our sites and helps our scientific and animal care staff identify potential health issues. The local teams first provide us with the clinical view. We can then determine if there is an issue that can be solved through animal welfare and provide our scientific advice and guidance."

Implementing best practices for welfare

Ani's role also includes keeping up with best practices and sharing new knowledge across Envigo sites.

"The field of animal welfare involves continuous research with many committed people," explained Ani. "Many practices that were in place 10 years ago are no longer used. There are always new creative ideas that researchers are testing to help determine what makes laboratory animals more comfortable."

She shared a few examples of research in animal welfare that have resulted in best practices and new standards in laboratory animal research.

+ Handling techniques: Researchers have studied the best way to safely remove mice from their cages to reduce stress, using what is called "tunnel handling" to put the mice in a tube. Best practices for handling other species have been studied and implemented as well over the years.

+ Enrichment: Manufacturers continue to create a variety of toys that are enjoyed by the animals, such as swings for mice and play areas specifically designed for dogs. Certain foods, like sunflower seeds, have been used to provide foraging enrichment for breeding mice.

+ Housing/caging: The social and physical environment of an animal can promote their welfare. With rodents, some research suggests that they prefer opaque cages, but transparent cages allow them to be observed without handling and therefore allows animal caretakers to spot any issues early that can impact animal welfare. Further research in this area will continue to explore this and define best practices to combine the significant benefit of clear caging while giving animals space to hide, providing them with appropriate houses, tunnels, and nesting materials.

+ Transportation: If transportation is needed, the shipment containers can mimic the housing as well as provide for their nutritional needs. 

"With all of the aspects—handling, enrichment, and housing—we are working to promote the animals' natural behaviors," said Ani.

"But what is good for the animals isn't always the same as a human's point of view," she added. "For example, mice like cages that contain a lot of their scent. Routine cleaning of their cage removes their scent and can be stressful for them. Obviously, we need a balance to ensure there are no health issues, but that's why research continues to identify what is good for an animals' well-being while meeting their needs."

Delivering training and promoting happiness

Internal animal welfare and ethical review committees (e.g., IACUC, AWERB, etc.) play an important role in promoting a culture of care where staff can openly discuss their concerns, share ideas for improvement, and "show and tell" positive initiatives that can be applied to other facilities.

The results of promoting animal welfare are evident in the staff's interactions with the animals. As Ani's team works to train site staff on the latest techniques and approaches, they also see how animal techniques are supporting compassionate animal care. 

"It's gratifying for our animal technicians to see the positive impact they are making as they interact with our animals and help make them feel comfortable," she said.

Beyond applying the principles of the 3Rs (replacement, reduction, and refinement) and following guidelines from different organizations such as AAALAC, NC3RS, and FELASA, Ani also considers the happiness of laboratory animals. 

Happiness is a difficult concept to evaluate in animals. It can be considered a state of mind of psychological well-being that is expressed by normal physiology and behavior. 

From an ethical point of view, good animal welfare will mean happy animals, and therefore, healthy animals. It is also crucial for research to have well-adjusted and healthy animals, which will support good science and help obtain reliable scientific data. 

"There are legal requirements and guidelines to provide good welfare but they are not to promote happiness - we just do it because we know it is very good for them," Ani confirmed.

Learn more about our work with animals in research at Envigo.