Part 3.7 Health monitoring
This is Part 3.7 of the Code of Practice for the Housing and Care of Laboratory Mice, Rats, Guinea Pigs and Rabbits.
It is important to the welfare of the animal colony to detect ill health and prevent the spread or establishment of infectious diseases. The level of monitoring will vary depending on the animals, the facility and the nature of the research conducted in the facility. Regular verification of the microbiological status of certain colonies for validation of research work and animal health and welfare may also be required.
Health monitoring encompasses microbiological, parasitological, serological and molecular diagnostics, analysis of breeding records and mortality rates, protocols for bringing animals and biological products into the facility, and phenotype reports. These details should be included in the health policy. The health policy should also include what action to take if an animal is suspected of ill health or abnormal behaviour.
Disease prevention is a combination of good management, knowledgable and cooperative research staff and an understanding of the epidemiology and biology of the pathological agents involved.
Examples of clinical monitoring sheets can be found in the various appendices. Records for animals in breeding facilities are discussed in Section 3.10 (iii).
Mice and rats
Specialist advice for health monitoring of mice and rat colonies should be sought from veterinarians and/or pathology laboratories. The use of sentinel animals should be considered and interpreted within the context of the size of the group and housing system. Furthermore, not all conditions seen in laboratory mice and rats are of an infectious nature. Consideration should be given to problems with diet, husbandry and environmental control in addition to monitoring of infectious agents.
Rabbits in cages may be difficult to assess for normal behaviours (as there may be inadequate space to carry out these behaviours) and changes in food and water intake may be the only early indicators of illness. Rabbits in pens should also be observed for changes in social interaction, in particular concerning subordinate animals.
Evidence indicates that infectious disease spread in rabbits housed in groups in pens is no more of a problem than for animals housed singly in cages, providing high standards of care and monitoring are maintained. Certain diseases (such as, Pasteurella multocida or 'snuffles') may in fact be reduced in penned rabbits, due to improved ventilation in pens in contrast to solid-walled cages.
In addition, the occurrence of certain conditions with an underlying non-infectious cause such as hairballs, sore hocks and reversible bone thinning are rare or non-existent in penned rabbits when compared with their caged counterparts.
Minimum standards for health monitoring:
- Health monitoring programs must consider the source and species of the animal, husbandry practices, the nature of the research being carried out in the facility, the movement of personnel and the risk to the colony.
- Persons in charge of the facility must ensure that a health policy is developed and adopted to ensure that all animals are kept in optimal health and treatment is available for those animals not displaying normal behaviour.
- Where an experiment is likely to have a negative impact on the health of the animals, details of animal monitoring and personnel responsibilities must be described in the project application submitted to the AEC.
- The appropriate level of biohazard containment must be used for animals exposed to known infectious agents.
- This section is not intended to dictate comprehensive health monitoring programs. A laboratory animal veterinarian should be consulted about a program of regular monitoring of the health status of animals within a facility. The frequency and intensity of health and microbiological monitoring programs should be determined after consideration of defined risk factors.
- Barrier housing aims to prevent infectious agents entering the barrier. Facilities and rooms should be classified according to the different levels of microbiological control required.
- Where possible, the health status of all animals should be ascertained before the animals are brought into the facility. Animals of unknown health status should be quarantined or isolated and tested before being admitted to the facility.