Refinement of tickling protocols to improve positive animal welfare in laboratory rats. Stage 1 Registered Report

Vincent Bombail*, Sarah Brown, Jessica Martin, Simone Meddle, Mike Mendl, Emma S Robinson, Tayla Hammond, Birte L. Nielsen, Megan Lofollette, Emma Tivey, I. Vinuela-Fernandez, Alistair Lawrence

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Rat tickling is a heterospecific interaction for experimenters to mimic the interactions of rat play, where they produce 50 kHz ultrasonic vocalisations (USV), symptoms of positive affect; tickling can improve laboratory rat welfare. The standard rat tickling protocol involves gently pinning the rat in a supine position. However, individual response to this protocol varies. This suggests there is a risk that some rats may perceive tickling as only a neutral experience, while others as a positive one, depending on how tickling is performed. Based on our research experiences of the standard tickling protocol we have developed a playful handling (PH) protocol, with reduced emphasis on pinning, intended to mimic more closely the dynamic nature of play.
We will test whether our PH protocol gives rise to more uniform increases in positive affect across individuals relative to protocols involving pinning. We will compare the response of juvenile male and female Wistar rats as: Control (hand remains still against the side of the test arena), P0 (PH with no pinning), P1 (PH with one pin), P4 (PH with four pins). P1 and P4 consist of a background of PH, with treatments involving administration of an increasing dosage of pinning per PH session.
We hypothesise that rats exposed to handling protocols that maximise playful interactions (where pinning number per session decreases) will show an overall increase in total 50 kHz USV as an indicator of positive affect, with less variability. We will explore whether behavioural and physiological changes associated with alterations in PH experience are less variable.
We propose that maximising the numbers of rats experiencing tickling as a positive experience will reduce the variation in response variables affected by tickling and increase the repeatability of research where tickling is applied either as a social enrichment or as a treatment.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1053
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages27
Early online date15 Sept 2022
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2022


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