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NC3Rs | 20 Years: Pioneering Better Science

Refining the use of head fixation and fluid control in rodents

Recommendations and guidance from an NC3Rs working group on high-yield rodent behavioural experiments focusing on fluid control and head fixation in mice.


The use of fluid control and head fixation, alone or in combination, is broadening and are now used across the neurosciences. There are clear animal welfare impacts to these procedures but until now there was little guidance or best practice recommendations.

Working group and 2022 paper

The NC3Rs convened an expert working group to look into high-yield rodent behaviour, focusing on these two procedures. The group has produced a paper outlining their findings.

Read the paper: Barkus et al. (2022). Refinements to rodent head fixation and fluid/food control for neuroscience. J Neurosci Methods 381:109705 doi: 10.1016/j.jneumeth.2022.109705.

The recommendations are divided into three sections: head fixation surgery, motivation and reward which includes discussion of fluid control, and refining the behavioural set-up. Whilst the focus is research involving the use of head fixation in mice, discussion of topics such as postoperative care and habituation to testing are also included and will be of interest to those performing any stereotactic surgery and/or behavioural testing in rodents.

The paper is supported by additional material, including a detailed surgical standard operating procedure and example welfare monitoring sheets.

Appendix A: Search strategies for the systematic literature reviews

Appendix B: Survey questionnaire

Appendix C: Detailed surgical SOP for head fixation surgeries

Appendix D: Example scoresheet and health monitoring templates

Summary sheets of recommendations

We have also produced brief summary sheets that collect together the major recommendations from the working group and 2022 paper. There are several of these, each aimed at a different audience.

Below you will find sheets intended for researchers, animal care staff and members of ethical review bodies (including AWERBs in the UK and IACUCs in the USA). In each case, recommendations for head fixation surgery and dietary control are given. Refinements to behavioural testing are also covered for researchers and members of ethical review bodies.

The purpose of these documents is to provide a quick reference to the overall recommendations of the working group and 2022 paper and also provides links to the relevant sections of the paper as well as other relevant resources. The document for researchers provides coverage of all the recommendations made whereas the sheet for animal care staff focusses more on the welfare monitoring and husbandry of animals involved in these types of study. The summary sheet for ethical review body members presents most of the recommendations as a series of questions to be used to guide discussion of these techniques within the context of ethical review. This sheet also has a longer introduction to the use of these techniques for those members of ethical review bodies who need to review the use of these methodologies but may not have personal experience of their use.

Summary sheet for researchers

Summary sheet for animal care staff

Summary sheet for ethical review body members