Laboratory Environments and Rodents’ Behavioural Needs: A Review

Jonathan Balcombe


Laboratory housing conditions have significant physiological and psychological effects on rodents, raising both scientific and humane concerns. Published studies of rats, mice and other rodents were reviewed to document behavioural and psychological problems attributable to predominant laboratory housing conditions. Studies indicate that rats and mice value opportunities to take cover, build nests, explore, gain social contact, and exercise some control over their social milieu, and that the inability to satisfy these needs is physically and psychologically detrimental, leading to impaired brain development and behavioural anomalies (e.g. stereotypies). To the extent that space is a means to gain access to such resources, spatial confinement likely exacerbates these deficits. Adding environmental ‘enrichments’ to small cages reduces but does not eliminate these problems, and I argue that substantial changes in housing and husbandry conditions would be needed to further reduce them.