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ILAR J. 2005;46(2):148-61.

Environmental enrichment for laboratory rodents.

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Division of Veterinary Resources, Office of Research Services, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Bethesda, MD, USA.


Modernization of housing and husbandry techniques for rodents has minimized confounding variables. The result has been vastly improved health maintenance and reproducibility of research findings, advances that have decreased the numbers of animals needed to attain statistically significant results. Even though not all aspects of rodent manipulation have been strictly defined, as housing and handling procedures have become increasingly standardized, many animal care personnel have recognized the lack of complexity of the rodents' environment. Concern for this aspect of animal well-being has led many research facilities to provide "environmental enrichment" for rodents. Additionally, regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe have also been increasingly concerned about this issue relative to laboratory animal husbandry. However, little is known about the influence such husbandry modifications may have on biological parameters. In this article, laws and guidelines relating to rodent enrichment are reviewed, the natural behaviors of select rodent species are discussed, and an overview of widely used types of enrichment in laboratory rodent management is provided. The literature evaluating effects of rodent enrichment is reviewed both in terms of neurological development and as an experimental variable, and results of a study evaluating the effect of enrichment on immune and physiological parameters are reported. Survey data on current enrichment practices in a large multi-institutional organization are presented, and practical aspects requiring consideration when devising a rodent enrichment program are discussed.

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