The division of labour and responsibility between the facility and scientists regarding the recording of observations on the animals must be discussed at a very early stage. Novel routines for these observations, including the production of scoring sheets, may have to be developed. Noting the time of day and order of sampling, not just the date, is important. Previous experience from similar studies should be sought and built upon. Procedures must be described in sufficient detail to enable them to be assessed. Descriptions of the monitoring methods and welfare assessment schemes to be used will be important aspects of this planning phase, since these records will facilitate the reporting of actual severity where this is a legal requirement. All of the techniques involved in the procedure need to be identified, and efforts made to ensure that the most refined methods are used.
Some examples of specific action points include the following:
Capture, immobilisation, marking, release re-use or re-homing
- The likely effects on the animals
- The potential danger to personnel and observers
- The use of different personnel than those performing procedures on the animals or assessing their status, to avoid bias
- The possibility of using alternative, non-invasive techniques, such as biometric methods of identification
- Consideration of species-specific guidelines for administration of substances, including the likely stress caused by handling and immobilisation. Traumatic injuries to the skin are particularly common in fish. Where at all possible, substances should be administered in connection with a pleasurable activity such as feeding, rather than as an isolated negative event.
- Evaluation of the potential effect at the injection site, including methods to refine the injection such as the use of smaller needles, local anaesthetic cream, buffered solutions, liquids at body temperature and the avoidance of incorrect deposition of the injectate
- An assessment of the likely effect of the injection volume on circulatory, renal and pulmonary function
- The timing, order of treatment and length of the administration process, to avoid introducing temporal artefacts and treatment bias caused by the animal's temperament, particularly if multiple measurements are to be made in the presence of other animals. The effects of performing tasks on different weekdays, when they may be very different routines and activity levels in a facility, should also be considered, since animals adapt quickly to these routines.
- The possible effects of differences in competence levels between personnel
- The possible secondary effects of a treatment, such as loss of body weight or muscle mass, and interference from co-habitants
- The appearance of sham-treated animals, to avoid observer bias
Blood sampling techniques
- Knowledge of the total circulating blood volume of the animal
- Consideration of species-specific guidelines for blood sampling and choice of the most refined method
- Assessment of the likely consequences of blood removal (including the stress of handling)
- Consideration of steps that can be taken to minimise residual bleeding (within or outside the animal) after the sample has been taken.
Sedation, anaesthesia and analgesia
- Justification for the drugs to be used, or for withholding analgesia or anaesthesia. The case for using traditional techniques must be weighed against novel ones which may improve animal welfare. The effects of withholding sedatives, anaesthetics and analgesics on the quality of collected data, procedural severity, ease of animal handling and welfare must be considered before any study where this is contemplated. The water quality of the anaesthetic or analgesic bath must be monitored in experiments on aquatic species.
- Compliance with published guidelines for these techniques
- An assessment of the risk of physical danger to the animals and observers, particularly during induction and recovery, and of inhalation or self-injection of anaesthetics
- Guidelines for procedures in emergency situations and out-of-hours, when less experienced personnel may be available
- An assessment of the need for specialised personnel and equipment, and for adequate staffing in the post-operative phase when pain assessment and pain management are critical
- Evaluation of methods of housing and care which can help to alleviate pain and suffering, such as the provision of soft bedding and food, and floor feeding.
Guidance on anaesthesia, analgesia, and surgical research, including that for fish and other aquatic species
Guidelines on severity classification or procedures and recognition of pain and distress (e.g. using Grimace Scales)
Guidelines for neuroscience research
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