We carry – and also feel – great responsibility for our laboratory animals. Animal welfare is very important to us. You can read below how we safeguard the welfare of our laboratory animals.
We want our laboratory animals to have as good a life as possible. Our facilities for different types of laboratory animals, all meet the legal requirements. We look after the animals to the best of our capability and the animal housing facilities meet the physiological needs of the different types of animals as far as possible. In our research we avoid and reduce any discomfort to the animals as much as we can. You can read below how that works in practice.
Culture of care
Safeguarding the welfare of animals is something we do together with all those who are involved: from the Animal Welfare Body Leiden (AWB) to the managers and those responsible for caring for the animals. The AWB Leiden pays a great deal of attention to promoting and achieving a culture of care. The AWB does this in order to ensure that all animal testing within Leiden University is conducted in a responsible manner with close attention for animal welfare and high demands on the quality of this research. You can read more about this in this policy document.
Studies with laboratory animals
All the animal facilities have special areas where we can:
- Observe the animals
- Carry out experiments using special equipment such as microscopes or behavioural settings
- Carry out operations
In addition, some studies require the use of wild caught or wild animals in their natural setting. These studies always aim to answer a specific research question which we can only be address using animals in their natural environment. In these cases we work closely with local research institutes and nature management.
The animals are taken care of by qualified personnel. The animal caretakers and (bio)medical research technicians have completed a three or four year training as animal caretaker or bio-technician to ensure that they are able to provide the animals the best possible care. The animal caretakers also have an additional diploma for working with laboratory animals. This is known as the art. 13f2 certificate. Some animal caretakers have also had extra training or have followed a specialist course to be able to carry out a limited number of biotechnological procedures. These could be for example injecting, marking animals or taking blood samples.
The caretakers check on a daily basis that the animals have sufficient water and food and monitor whether they appear to be lively and healthy. For these caretakers, their experience and expertise are very important in being able to identify abnormal behaviour. The caretakers record their findings in welfare diaries for later review.
Animal discomfort: distress and pain
All animal experiments entail some degree of discomfort. This does not necessarily mean that the animals suffer pain: discomfort covers all types of reduced well-being.
Possible effects include stress, anxiety or pain. When planning and designing an experiment, we do our best to keep this discomfort to a minimum. We work, for example, with pain relief or anaesthesia when carrying out procedures to ensure that the animal suffers as little as possible. In most of our studies, the animals experience mild discomfort (ca. 90%); in roughly 8% they experience moderate discomfort.
Mild discomfort can include an injection, a short-lasting anaesthetic, a few days of solitary housing or the growth of a small tumour under the skin. Moderate discomfort can include the after-effects of an operation, experiencing multiple injections, having several procedures in a short period of time under anaesthetic, a longer period of solitary housing or the growth of a tumor in a place that may be uncomfortable for the animal.
After an experiment
The laboratory animals that we use at Leiden University are all killed at the end of the experiment. Our researchers generally need to conduct measurements on the animals’ organs. This could, for example, be for the purpose of research on neurodegeneration in the brain, levels of atherosclerosis, or material to map genes. Animals whose organs are not used, often cannot be kept alive because of potential long term welfare issues caused by the experiment . Additionally rehousing or keeping them alive is often not an option because they may have been genetically modified, injected with different substances, or they may experience tumour growth. Adoption is sometimes possible with animals that we have used for breeding. These are generally zebra finches checked on their health status by the vet.
If you would like to know more about this topic, for instance regarding the demands we place on the quality of research or animal welfare, please contact us.