Animal welfare | University of Oxford

Animal welfare

Oxford is committed to high standards of animal welfare. That means housing animals well, ensuring they have opportunities to exhibit natural behaviours, looking after their psychological well-being, and keeping them in good physical health. For research procedures, it means regularly refining techniques so that they cause the minimum discomfort, and using anaesthetic and painkillers for the small percentage of invasive procedures like surgery so that animals do not experience pain.

The University of Oxford completed in 2008 a new facility, the Biomedical Sciences Building, to rehouse animals used in potentially life-saving research. The facility is state of the art in terms of animal health and hygiene (see link on left). Some specific examples of how the new building will improve animal welfare are given below.

How is welfare monitored?

Animal research in the UK is strictly regulated - for more information, visit the regulations section of this website (see link on left).

Compliance with regulations is monitored by regular unannounced Home Office inspections.

The Biomedical Sciences Building: improving animal welfare

Below are some specific examples of how the Biomedical Sciences Building improves animal welfare: 

  • Animal health is ensured through the ultra-hygienic design of the building, with sophisticated air controls and cleaning apparatus, and a modern diagnostic laboratory for health screening.
  • One of the most important aspects of welfare for social species, such as primates, is social housing. These animals are housed together in the Biomedical Sciences Building. This allows them to display their natural inclination to be part of a social group, which is essential for welfare. This was achieved in older facilities by adapting existing space, but the new facilities were purpose-built with this thinking in mind.
  • With social play and grouping in mind, the primate and ferret housing has interlinked housing units and play areas, allowing the animals to play in larger, fully enriched spaces and in large groups. The rooms are designed to allow flexible use of space, so that all areas of the room can be fully opened up to all animals. When necessary, a smaller group can be separated out, but in such a way that it still has access to a play area.
  • Primates and also ferrets enjoy climbing, and their housing in the new building is designed to give free rein to this – even more so than in previous housing – with different levels, ladders, platforms, ropes and swings.
  • Transgenic mice have moved from being housed in cages to what’s known as IVCs (individually ventilated cages). These are Perspex housing units which each have their own air supply. This houses the mice in a very clean, protected environment where they are bathed in clean air 24 hours a day at the right temperature and humidity. This protects the mice from pathogens or infections and so maintains best animal health.
  • Mice like to hide in darker spaces. Their housing units are made of coloured, rather than clear, Perspex. This gives them the impression that they are hidden in a darker environment while still allowing care staff to see them.
  • Rodents like to shred, burrow and nibble. They also like to hide inside small dark spaces. They are provided with things to chew, paper to shred and burrow under, and shelters or tunnels to hide inside and run through.
  • Primates spend 75 per cent of their waking time in the wild foraging for food. Their food is therefore often hidden, or scattered amongst their bedding material, so they can display this natural behaviour by searching, foraging and sorting food. 

Veterinary Services

Any establishment conducting research involving animals is required to retain the services of a 'Named Veterinary Surgeon'. At Oxford University there is an entire Veterinary Services team, the head of which is the Named Veterinary Surgeon.

The Veterinary Services staff, which includes veterinary surgeons and behavioural zoologists with research interests in animal welfare and behaviour, ensure the physical and psychological welfare of Oxford’s research animals, and provide specialist advice in areas such as animal housing and husbandry.

Veterinary Services are in charge of training researchers who plan to work with animals, and keeping them up to date with the latest best practice, helping to ensure that techniques are regularly refined to improve animal welfare. Veterinary Services staff are active in research into animal welfare and behaviour.