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Comments on the dilemma in the November issue: Is this nice for mice?
  1. Janet Rodgers and
  2. David Williams

Abstract

In the dilemma discussed in the November issue of In Practice, David Williams described a scenario where you have recently taken up a position as Named Veterinary Surgeon at a research laboratory. Until this point you have worked in small animal medicine. A lot of research is conducted on mice kept in individually ventilated cages and you are concerned that the housing does not meet the five welfare needs of the animals (IP, November 2018, vol 40, pp 422-423). What could or would you do?

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Janet Rodgers European veterinary specialist in laboratory animal medicine and member of ECLAM

David Williams responds: I thank the LAVA Council and Janet Rodgers for their comments. The case I described was based on a real-life situation in a rodent colony with which I was involved with mice held individually in IVCs. However, I realise that the majority of mice are kept in groups as required by the UK code of practice. I was not at all suggesting that a veterinary surgeon with no expertise in laboratory animal medicine would ever be appointed as an NVS, nor that animal care staff generally feel unable to voice concerns, although in the situation in which I was involved this was indeed the case. I quite agree that a career in laboratory animal medicine can be fulfilling and rewarding, but do still contend that optimising the welfare of animals used for scientific study can often be a complex and challenging task.

Discussing ethical dilemmas is commended but such discussions must be based on fact. The case ‘Is this nice for mice?’ in the November issue of In Practice, contained fundamental errors.

The article appears to promote the misnomer that individually ventilated cages (IVCs) house animals individually. Individual housing of a social species is not allowed under the UK code of practice for housing and care of animals used for scientific purposes other than in the welfare interests of the animal (as agreed with the vet/senior technician), or if justified and sanctioned in the project licence (PPL) authorising the programme of scientific work. The vast majority of mice held in IVCs are in socially compatible groups.

All PPLs are reviewed by the local Animal Welfare and Ethical Review Body (AWERB) and undergo harm benefit analysis by an Animals in Science Regulation Unit inspector. The Named Veterinary Surgeon (NVS) and Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer are obligatory members of AWERB and have opportunities to express concerns on all aspects of a PPL, including individual housing of animals.

A culture of care is strongly promoted within UK-licensed establishments and requires a mechanism to be in place to allow anyone to raise animal care and welfare concerns.

Members of the Laboratory Animal Veterinary Association (LAVA) Council

Professor Williams’s ethics case ‘Is this nice for mice?’ contains multiple errors and misnomers. He confuses individually ventilated caging with individually housed mice, implies that a veterinary surgeon with no expertise in laboratory animal medicine can be appointed as NVS, states that mice in IVCs have no olfactory exposure to neighbours, and suggests that animal care staff are unable to voice concerns. Mice are more territorial than ‘gregarious’; since half of them are likely to be males, the topic of managing aggression is one of the most compelling challenges. I would advise readers to consult the extensive literature on housing of laboratory mice, especially narrative and systematic reviews.

A career in laboratory animal medicine is fulfilling, challenging and rewarding. It requires extensive postgraduate study. Veterinary surgeons are encouraged to explore the speciality, pursue a diploma in laboratory animal medicine (such as from the European College of Laboratory Animal Medicine [ECLAM]), and participate in the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International’s work to accredit laboratory animal facilities.

Everyday Ethics Poll

Last month’s poll asked:

You are new to the role of Named Veterinary Surgeon and are working in a facility that uses individually ventilated cages for mice. Scientific research shows they cause anxiety in mice, a naturally social species. What do you do?

3% of respondents said they would do nothing. You are new to the job and don’t want to rock the boat.

47% of respondents said they would bring the issue up, but stand down if others argue the case for continued use.

50% of respondents said they would bring the issue up, and insist that the laboratory housing facilities are changed for future experiments.

(36 respondents)

Vote for this month’s online poll at:

https://twitter.com/Vet_Record

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