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NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science

Mouse handling: Tips for implementation

Evidence suggests that picking up mice by the tail can affect their welfare as well as scientific outcomes, and that alternatives such as using a tunnel or cupped hands offer refinement opportunities. 

Tail handling is the standard approach in many laboratories and institutions. Moving to other methods requires consideration of factors such as resource and training requirements, as well as engagement with scientists and animal care staff.

Each laboratory or institution will require a tailored strategy for implementation that takes account of the type of research undertaken and the stage of experiments.

The implementation strategy should include the following tasks.


Key task Why and/or how to implement
Ensuring that scientists and animal care staff are familiar with the evidence base for the refined handling methods

This can be added to the agenda for team, laboratory or departmental meetings for example, on animal facility websites or in internal newsletters. Including a link to the NC3Rs mouse handling resources ensures that there is access to the latest papers as well practical guidance on training.

Providing training for scientific and technical staff on refined handling

This should include existing and new staff, and it is worth considering whether refined handling methods should be rolled out on a project by project, research group by research group, or animal room by animal room basis to allow training requirements to be more easily managed. This staged approach will address any concerns about delays in husbandry as staff become familiar and competent with the new methods.

Identifying handling champions from the scientific and animal care staff

This can help to expedite the transition to refined handling methods and allows for any teething problems to be addressed.

Buy-in from scientists and animal care staff

It is important that any change to handling methods are discussed and agreed in advance with the scientists to ensure that ongoing experiments are not adversely disrupted and that any additional information that may be required is collected (to preserve the integrity of baseline data). It may be beneficial for animal facilities to offer alternatives to tail handling as an option for scientists to build confidence. A coordinated and inclusive approach that involves scientists and animal care staff is essential to ensure consistency in the handling of animals.

Gain high level support and ownership 

Oversight by the animal ethics committee (e.g. AWERB) can be helpful.

Providing resources to support the transition to refined handling methods

Plastic tunnels can be used, but where there are concerns about costs existing cardboard tubes (which are often included in cages for enrichment) or the cupped hand technique are suitable alternatives. It is important to recognise that there is an initial investment in staff training and competency assessment, but the evidence suggests that once staff are trained then the refined handling methods do not add time to standard husbandry practices.

Evaluating the process of implementation

Regular evaluation ensures that lessons are learnt that can assist wider roll-out.

Example implementation strategy

We have produced an example implementation strategy (download link below) for roll-out of the refined mouse handling techniques. Each establishment will require a tailored approach; however, we hope you will find this step-by-step guide useful. We have identified some of the challenges you may encounter in seeking to achieve change within your establishment and suggested solutions to help you succeed. The information provided is based upon discussions at the 2017 NC3Rs workshop on mouse handling methods and the experiences of our Regional Programme Managers.