Systematic Assessment of Well-Being in Mice for Procedures Using General Anesthesia.
In keeping with the 3R Principle (Replacement, Reduction, Refinement) developed by Russel and Burch, scientific research should use alternatives to animal experimentation whenever possible. When there is no alternative to animal experimentation, the total number of laboratory animals used should be the minimum needed to obtain valuable data. Moreover, appropriate refinement measures should be applied to minimize pain, suffering, and distress accompanying the experimental procedure. The categories used to classify the degree of pain, suffering, and distress are non-recovery, mild, moderate, or severe (EU Directive 2010/63). To determine which categories apply in individual cases, it is crucial to use scientifically sound tools. The well-being-assessment protocol presented here is designed for procedures during which general anesthesia is used. The protocol focuses on home cage activity, the Mouse Grimace Scale, and luxury behaviors such as burrowing and nest building behavior as indicators of well-being. It also uses the free exploratory paradigm for trait anxiety-related behavior. Fecal corticosterone metabolites as indicators of acute stress are measured over the 24-h post-anesthetic period. The protocol provides scientifically solid information on the well-being of mice following general anesthesia. Due to its simplicity, the protocol can easily be adapted and integrated in a planned study. Although it does not provide a scale to classify distress in categories according to the EU Directive 2010/63, it can help researchers estimate the degree of severity of a procedure using scientifically sound data. It provides a way to improve the assessment of well-being in a scientific, animal-centered manner.