Current standards of housing these intelligent, sensitive animals in laboratories do not even allow them to stand upright!
The RSPCA is standing up for rats by calling for a change in housing standards for lab animals to give rats room to stretch up to their full height.
This World Day for Animals in Laboratories (which takes place on April 24), the animal welfare charity wants Government to make a small change to housing standards which could mean a big difference to millions of rats each year.
The current Code of Practice allows rats to be housed in cages which are just 20cm high, but adults can rear up to 30cm. This means they cannot stand upright in ‘standard’ cages – restricting their natural behaviour and causing back pain.
The RSPCA wants to see the regulation changed to a minimum 30cm height and has written to the Home Office Minister to call for a change in the standards.
Dr Penny Hawkins, Head of the RSPCA’s Research Animals team, said: “For all the talk of animal welfare being a priority, we find it incredible that millions of rats throughout Europe live in laboratory cages that do not even allow them to stand upright. It would be unthinkable to restrict and confine other animals like this. Rodents bear the brunt of animal experiments, so surely the least people can do for these intelligent and complex animals is give them the space to actually stand up normally.”
Animal behaviour studies show that being able to stand and rear up on their hind legs is extremely important for rat welfare and is a vital way for them to explore their environment.
Some establishments have recognised the lack of headroom for rats as a serious welfare issue, and have invested in taller cages that allow rats to rear to their full height. The RSPCA welcomes these efforts to reduce suffering and improve welfare while rat use continues, but believes that taller cages – at least 30 cm – should be compulsory.
Stand up for rats
Penny continues: “Claims that ‘everything possible is done to minimise suffering’ will ring hollow until all facilities using or breeding rats have moved to taller cages. There is now sound scientific evidence that rats’ quality of life will suffer if they cannot stand upright, so we are calling for standards in the UK and the rest of the European Union to reflect this. It’s time to stand up for rats.”
A raw deal for rodents
More than 100 million animals are still used worldwide in research and testing every year and the RSPCA is deeply concerned about all laboratory animals. But rodents get a particularly raw deal – more mice and rats are used in experiments than all other species combined: eight out of 10 animals in a laboratory will be a rat or a mouse. Rats and mice can experience discomfort, pain and distress like other animals, and their lives and welfare are just as important.
The most recent UK figures show that 2.9 million mice and almost a quarter of a million rats were used in 2016. Of these, 95,335 mice and 5,242 rats experienced ‘severe’ suffering, the highest permissible level of severity. Rodents are actually the most likely animals to suffer severely in experiments, along with fish and amphibians. The RSPCA is working with scientists and regulators to end severe suffering for animals in laboratories.
To find out more about the RSPCA’s work to help laboratory animals visit the website.