How to pick up a mouse

Laboratory mice are routinely handled for husbandry and scientific procedures. Traditionally mice are initially picked up by the base of the tail, sometimes with a hand positioned to support the animal’s body.

Picking up mice by the tail can compromise their welfare and affect scientific outcomes

Research has shown that picking up mice by the tail induces aversion and high anxiety levels, as assessed by a range of measures, which can be minimised by instead using a tunnel or a cupped hand. As well as having animal welfare benefits the research, led by Professor Jane Hurst at the University of Liverpool, has shown that picking up mice by the tail can impact on scientific outcomes, with mice handled by tunnel and cupping methods showing improved performance in behavioural tests compared to traditional tail handling. 

The research has since been replicated by other groups, who have shown that the method of handling can affect physiological parameters and behaviour, including the response to reward.

Here we provide practical tips on non-aversive handling, including a webinar, a video tutorial, and the underpinning evidence base. The FAQs address common misconceptions. 

Summary of research findings 

Using a tunnel or cupped hand to pick up mice causes less anxiety than traditional tail handling. Mice quickly habituate to tunnel handling and can subsequently be restrained by the scruff or tail base for procedures or health and welfare assessments without negating the positive impacts of the non-aversive capture. 

Non-aversive methods do not add time to husbandry or procedures provided staff are adequately trained. The investment in training should be outweighed by the benefits observed with more reliable behavioural and physiological responses in the mice. 

Who funded the research?

The original research by Professor Hurst was funded by the BBSRC and the NC3Rs. It won the 2010 NC3Rs 3Rs Prize. Mr John Waters, the animal technician who supported the research, won the 2017 IAT Andrew Blake Tribute Award and was named Outstanding Technician of the Year at the 2020 THE Awards. Professor Hurst was awarded an OBE for services to animal welfare in the 2020 New Year Honours list.

View our video tutorial on the refined mouse handling methods.
Read answers to frequently asked questions about tunnel and cup handling.
Hear from champions based at facilities around the UK who have successfully implemented non-aversive mouse handling methods.
Request copies of our mouse handling poster for display in your facility.
Read the underpinning research and related papers.
Tips and strategies for rolling out the refined handling methods in your facility.
Download short video clips for use in in-house training.
Professor Jane Hurst describes the evidence supporting refined handling techniques and practical tips for implementation.