Implementing and sharing your findings about enrichment
Carrying out your evaluation of enrichment is just the beginning; the next steps are using what you have learned to benefit the animals in your care, then considering how you could disseminate your findings.
My study has...
If you found that the animals you observed responded well to the changes you made, it is likely that you will want to implement them across more animal cages or tanks.
You should introduce the new enrichment at appropriate times and monitor animals carefully in the short- and long-terms. You can do this by:
- Adapting routine health and welfare assessment protocols to pick-up any negative effects that may be related to the changes in the short to long-terms.
- Backing up routine assessments with regular spot checks to ensure that enrichment items continue to meet the animals’ needs, as these can change over time.
- Sharing your findings, both inside and outside of your facility, and discussing your results with others. Your knowledge can be used to improve the welfare of additional animals of the same species and strain.
- Keep thinking of refinements – you may be able to improve welfare further, and your findings could inform how you do this.
You may have found that the changes you evaluated negatively affected animal welfare. This could have been evident through increased incidents of aggression or animals becoming tangled in enrichment items, for example. In this instance you should:
- Revert the changes and carry out continual monitoring if necessary (e.g. to ensure any issues with aggression or territoriality are resolved).
- Share your findings, both inside and outside of your facility, and discuss your results with others. Your knowledge can be used to prevent animals being provided unsuitable enrichment.
- Consider how you could alter enrichment or husbandry on the basis of your findings.
- Keep trying! Different strains of a species may all have the same enrichment needs (e.g. for a nest box or bedding) but the exact kind of items that are suitable can vary.
If you did not observe any notable difference between animals with enrichment and those without you should:
- Review your results carefully; discuss them with others within and outside of your institution in case there are unexpected reasons why the findings were inconclusive.
- Keep trying! If you were aiming to address a specific behaviour indicative of poor welfare (e.g. a stereotypy), it is particularly important to review and retry.
- Remember that enrichment needs will change over time, e.g. at different life stages.
- Be aware that that different strains of a species may all have the same enrichment needs (e.g. for a shelter or nesting material), but the exact kind of items that are suitable can vary.
You may have noticed issues or behaviours that that require further attention. It is not unusual to learn something unexpected in the course of a study. If this is the case, you should discuss with your colleagues to decide on your next steps.
Your initial findings may indicate a clear next step. For example, you may have determined that the animals use the enrichment and now you want to know how they use it or whether they prefer one enrichment item to another. If this is the case, revisit the example protocols and decide which approach is appropriate for further investigation. If the findings of a basic study highlight something particularly novel or interesting, you should strongly consider carrying out a more robust study in collaboration with others.
The process of implementing enrichment may be complicated by factors like availability, budget and the openness of your colleagues to change. Our FAQs section addresses some of these issues.
Once you have completed the tasks of carrying out the study and analysing the data, your final step is to make others aware of what you have done and what you found. Feedback and communication are important, regardless of whether the enrichment was a success or not. You will need to consider who could benefit from information about your evaluation and the results you obtained. You may need to obtain permission to share your data externally.
Opportunities to share your findings range from a discussion with colleagues, through presenting a poster or talk at a conference, to contributing to a publication. Which are appropriate will depend on your findings, the rules within your facility, the scientific robustness of your study, who you are collaborating with and your own commitments. In all cases you will start with a clear summary of your findings, usually alongside a visualisation of your data (e.g. a graph or figure).
A study with any level of investment and scientific robustness can be:
- Initially you will share your findings with your colleagues. It is important that they are up to date on anything that relates to the animals in their care. Your colleagues may also have ideas on who else to share your findings with.
- Your findings may be of interest to committees focused on ethics and animal care (e.g. the AWERB, IACUC or equivalent), scientific user groups and species-focused welfare groups.
- You can create a poster and upload it to The Enrichment Record poster repository. This is an open access resource so you can also view other posters to use as examples.
- Share your poster or a visualisation of your data (e.g. relevant graphs) along with a summary of your findings on social media. Twitter is a good option for this, as you can tag organisations that may be interested in your findings, for example: the NC3Rs (@NC3Rs), IAT (@InstAnimalTech), RSPCA (@RSPCA_LabAnimal) and The Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (@UFAW_1926).
For more advanced studies, you should consider:
Find relevant events and groups by asking colleagues and looking online. Consider laboratory animal science associations, animal technicians’ meetings, specialist organisations in your field (e.g. toxicology or neuroscience societies), 3Rs centres and science-focused animal welfare organisations.
Studies that are conducted with the intention to publish are designed accordingly, taking into account what the potential publishers expect. It is good to consider your options for publication well ahead of time, so you can plan accordingly and collaborate with the right people.
Animal Technology and Welfare, the journal of the UK’s Institute for Animal Technology (IAT), is a good publication for animal technicians considering submitting papers for the first time. The PREPARE and ARRIVE guidelines are useful when planning experiments, and you could also ask colleagues for advice on statistics and experimental design if necessary. Be sure to also consult the ARRIVE guidelines when writing up your studies for publication, and to share the DETAILS of your study.
Let us know about your work
You can become a force for positive change by sharing your findings, regardless of whether your findings were positive, negative or inconclusive. We would welcome hearing about the results of your studies or any challenges you have faced – please email tech3Rs@nc3rs.org.uk to share your experiences.