Rat Housing & Handling

Evidence-based refinements for rats.

In a laboratory setting, it is important to provide housing that allows expression in a wide range of species-typical behaviors while also meeting research goals. Substandard housing can lead to aggression, stereotyping, and anxiety. Understanding the animal’s natural behavior enables us to build quality environments that meet physical, behavioral, and social needs. Proper design is critical for improved health and welfare, both of which improve scientific validity.

Making changes to current housing standards can be challenging especially since facilities may be at very different levels of current housing. Work from where you are currently to make improvements. Furthermore, before implementing housing changes, be sure to consult the relevant scientific literature and consider the requirements of your scientific model.  Each facility may require an individual approach to increasing housing standards as much as possible.

Key Natural Behaviors


  • Stable social groups
  • Cages that are large & tall enough to allow rats to stand upright, stretch, and climb
  • Solid floors
  • Avoid brightly lit home enclosures
  • Positive handling such as tickling when juveniles
  • Nesting material, shelters, tubes/climbing structures
  • Aspen bedding is generally preferable compared to corn cob
  • Gnawing materials such as wood blocks or chew sticks
  • Access to digging materials such as deep shaving, dirt, crinkle paper, etc.
  • Playpens or exercise areas with water trays, running wheel, ladders, ropes, etc. (see more)
  • Rat tickling and low-stress handling: see our rat tickling facts and questions resource page

Training rats to cooperate with procedures

A group at RISE (Research Institutes of Sweden) also have unique and effective methods for training rodents to cooperate with procedures. Their team focuses on initial handling using gentle techniques and food reinforcements to cooperate with transport, blood sampling, and oral gavage with minimal or even no restraint.

Learn more about their techniques by viewing the videos below and reading the blog post with further videos from 2019 NC3Rs IAT Symposium.

If you know of other resources that you think should be featured on this page, please contact us at contactus@na3rsc.org.

See Next

Rat Tickling: Facts and Questions