10 Tips for a Happier, Healthier Rodent
- Social interaction
It has been proven that animals in general do better in groups. Several female or young litter mates housed together will do very well. Ensure the cage is large enough to house your species, and avoid overcrowding or male groups to prevent fighting, injuries, and in some cases, death.
Substrate, the material provided at the bottom of the cage, can be a great source of some enrichment. There are many kinds of substrate from corn cob bedding to wood chips and even multiple paper beddings. Choose the kind best suited to your rodents and your study. Mice enjoy a deeper bedding to keep warm, while rats prefer less. And, while bedding should be changed regularly to decrease ammonia build up, spot changes help rodents feel safe and less stressed as it provides for a constant and familiar scent.
Most rodents enjoy hiding and nesting. It is a natural behaviour seen in both wild and lab species. Choose nesting material that can provide your rodent with enough nesting material to build something warm and to provide some fun. Nesting material can include crinkle paper, nestlets, tissue, etc.
Hiding spots keep your rodents feeling safe. Huts or housing structures can be provided and come in many varieties including plastic igloos, paper shacks, tubes and climbing structures.
- Toys and Exercise
Toys can be a great way to keep your rodents happy and on their best behaviour. Wheels, hanging toys and climbing structures are great ways to keep your rodents entertained and happy. Bored rodents can become psychologically depressed which can have an effect on studies.
Rodents are natural foragers, spending a large part of their day doing it, so adding foraging enrichment is a great way to keep them engaged. The substrate provides a space to offer food and treats for them to dig through and find. Using toys or chew boxes to hide treats and food is another great option. Providing foraging options can also help reduce fighting.
Rodents teeth continually grow during their lifetime. Providing chew options helps to maintain good oral health, keep teeth at optimal levels and can be great sources of enrichment. Consider providing wood gnawing blocks, nylon chew bones or another rodent safe chewing toy.
Breeding animals can be stressed animals if there are too many stimuli, including the presence of unfamiliar humans, too frequent cage change, not enough enrichment, etc. Ensuring your breeders have all of the above enrichment can go a long way in aiding great breeding. Sensitive breeders can also be offered other treats such as Love Mash, prenatal gel or even chocolate to help reduce stress and stimulate breeding.
Some rodent species, like rats, are very social creatures. They seem to enjoy human interaction and so handling is a good source of enrichment for them. This also helps acclimate them to being handled during experiments which helps reduce stress. While other species have less love for human kind, some gentle, frequent handling can also help them acclimate and therefore be less stressed also.
- Light exposure
Mice and rats are nocturnal creatures, most active at dawn and dusk. Long hours in light may cause stress. Both behaviour and health are effected by light exposure, so it’s important to limit exposure.
- Music/white noise
Rodents, mice in particular, are very sensitive to noise. Loud talking, moving equipment and new sounds can all add stress to your colonies. Multiple studies have proven that music can help improve brain function, behaviour, immunology and stress physiology in rodents.