Laboratory Animal Science & Enrichment

What is Laboratory Animal Behavior?

Laboratory animal science encompasses the care and study of animals used in education and research. It includes a diverse array of professionals devoted to improving the lives of people and animals. Some of the disciplines included in lab animal science are animal care, toxicology, animal behavior, reproductive biology, anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology, Laboratory animal behavior focuses on the behavior, care, training and enrichment of animals used in these programs.

Many different species are used in the field of laboratory animal science, such as rodents, rabbits, ferrets, cats, dogs, pigs, primates, birds, fish, and amphibians. The proper care of these animals requires a thorough knowledge of their behavior and natural history. Federal regulations require institutions to provide for the psychological well-being of these laboratory animals, including requirements for group housing and the provision of appropriate environmental conditions. But outstanding care goes beyond regulatory compliance; behavioral and environmental enrichment are essential to providing the highest levels of welfare for all animals in captivity. Proper enrichment can reduce stereotypies and other undesirable behaviors while increasing species-typical postures, activities and behavior.

Who needs to understand laboratory animal behavior?

Laboratory Animal Technicians

Laboratory animal technicians realize that outstanding animal care includes attention to animals' mental and emotional well-being. Technical personnel are charged with providing enrichment. However, a fuller knowledge and understanding of enrichment strategies allows the staff to play a fuller role in the design of the overall program. Technicians are not just the providers of enrichment, they are also in the best position to assess its impact, suggest changes, and maximize the effectiveness of any existing enrichment program.

Veterinarians & Veterinary Technicians

The connection between mental and physical health has already been well documented in both people and animals. Veterinary staff is focused on health and preventive medicine and thus are a key component to enrichment programs. Proper enrichment reduces stress and facilitates quality care. Veterinarians and their technical staff review and oversee existing programs and any suggested changes. The facility veterinarian is best positioned to determine how enrichment can be employed while avoiding toxins, injury, airway obstructions, and all potential health & safety hazards. A full knowledge of enrichment goals and strategies can help staff to improve overall animal health.

Researchers

Investigators are sometimes concerned that enrichment may introduce additional variables into a study. However, as long as enrichment is established before the experiments begin there is no reason to believe that confounding variables will be introduced. In fact, the decrease in stress and maladaptive behaviors that typically accompanies enrichment suggests that lab animals become better study animals when they receive appropriate enrichment. With a proper understanding of animal enrichment, researchers will be able to enrich laboratory animals without affecting results or compromising experimental design. Indeed, due to inadequate assessment, there are many opportunities for research in the field of enrichment itself. Good behavioral management must address three key components for every animal: the physical environment, the social environment, and the opportunity for physical and mental challenges.

The outlook for professionals in laboratory animal science is excellent. The field of animal care and service workers, which includes laboratory animal technicians, is expected to grow at 15% over the next decade (source: U.S. Department of Labor).  And salaries will continue to be significantly higher in the laboratory animal field relative to the average for all animal care workers.

Technicians and behaviorists are widely employed in industry, government and academic institutions.

What are some of the positions available in laboratory animal behavior?

  • Laboratory animal technicians
  • Enrichment specialists
  • Research technicians
  • Animal facility managers
  • Animal care technicians
  • Safety assessment technicians
  • Biomedical technicians
  • Training & enrichment coordinators
  • Research biologists
  • Toxicologists
  • Veterinarians
  • Veterinary technicians

If you have a professional interest in Laboratory Animal Behavior, you may want to explore one or more of these associations for additional information.

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