Operations & Tunnels

Tunnels are a key feature for the tunnel method of refined mouse handling. They come in many materials like polycarbonate, ideal for biosecurity and autoclaving, and pulp paper tunnels that are more easily acquired.  Considerations for acquiring tunnels, care and cleaning, and additional factors to consider when using tunnels are reviewed below. 

  1. Size: the tunnel should fit your mice but successfully fit in the cage, thus the exact size you choose may vary.
  2. Colour: tunnels are typically available as clear (for easy visualization) or red/orange (for low-light shelter).
  3. Material: materials include polycarbonate (ideal for autoclaving) and cardboard (ideal for disposal).                             

*Clear polycarbonate is recommended as clear tunnels allow for easy visualization of mice within the tunnel.

Choosing a Tunnel











high temp polycarbonate


Length: 3 7/8″   

Inside diameter: 2″

Wall: 1/8″




recycled pulp paper

Length: 3 7/8″   

Inside diameter: 2″

Wall: 1/8″



high temp polycarbonate

30 x 50 mm, 3 mm wall thickness OR

00 x 50 mm ID 3 mm wall thickness




100mm long x 50mm diameter



high temp polycarbonate

Length: 100 mm

Height: 56 mm

Thickness: 3 mm


Does your company sell tunnels but you don’t see your product listed here? Reach out to info@na3rsc.org to add your product.


Refined handling can also be compatible with high biosecurity laboratories and facilities. For highest biosecurity, home cage tunnels and sanitizing gloves between cages is recommended. Often institutions will mimic similar biosecurity procedures as used for previous handling procedures. For example, if forceps and a forceps bath was used previously, they may use a hand bath instead.

A number of tips are listed below based on the successful implementation of this technique in current facilities:

  1. Make use of what is already available to you: cleaning spray bottles or automatic hand sanitizer dispensers located in the cage change area for efficiently and effectively sanitising hands, gloves, oversleeves etc…
  2. Use dip boxes to sanitize hands in between cages, similar to dip boxes used for forceps
  3. When selecting the choice of sanitizer, choose something that is both suitable for directly handling animals, and compatible with PPE material


* In Biohazard colonies where hands are not allowed to touch the animals, a tunnel can be used instead and kept in the homecage (see below) or a sterile supply can be kept in the colony room.

Check out our refined handling course which contains more information about using refined handling while maintaining biosecurity, by clicking the link here.

Figure 1. Time (s; mean ± SEM [bar]) to change each cage. Timing was evaluated for each handling group on 4 cage changing sessions (n = 14 cages per handling group). In the home tunnel group, the time to change 14 cages was significantly (P < 0.0001) slower during session 4 compared with session 1. Cage change speed did not differ between sessions 1 and 4 for any of the remaining groups.
Doerning et al. Assessment of Mouse Handling Techniques During Cage Change. JAALAS:2019;58(6)

Sanitation: autoclave or cage wash?

How you clean your tunnels can vary based on the manufacturer’s recommendations (e.g., autoclaving vs cage washing). Typically, reusable tunnels are made of autoclave- and cage washing-safe material, like polycarbonate. Most tunnels are sanitized 1x/month.

For washing, tunnels are scrubbed as needed, placed in a single layer, and inspected for cleanliness. Excessively soiled tunnels can be soaked in plastic bins. 

An example of tunnel arrangement for autoclaving can be seen in the photo to the right.

How to arrange polycarbonate tubes for autoclaving.

Additional considerations

Colored polycarbonate: colored tunnels (e.g., red or yellow) allow for low-light shelter for your mice, while still allowing for health observation.

Cardboard/recycled paper: cardboard tunnels are disposable (and therefore do not require additional cleaning/sanitation). They also provide mice with a source of sheltering, nesting, and gnawing enrichment, and can help reduce boredom or aggression. However, they can obstruct health observations by animal care staff and must be replaced much more frequently than reusable tunnels.

Lifespan/replacement: Most tunnels (plastic/polycarbonate) last about 3 years. 

Tunnel size: you want to be sure your tunnels are large enough to fit your mice, but small enough to fit in the cage and not get stuck. Tunnels for mice are typically 5 cm wide and 10 to 15 cm long.

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Home cage tunnels: home cage tunnels are not necessary, but have many benefits, including:

  • Enrichment – mice can use the tunnels outside of instances of handling. Depending on the type of tunnel, they can provide shelter, gnawing, or nesting enrichment.
  • Familiarity – mice become more comfortable with tunnels and enter them more readily, making tunnel handling easier, even in more anxious strains.
  • Biosecurity – adding tunnels to each cage eliminates biosecurity concerns of shared tunnels and avoids the need for cleaning tunnels after use in each cage during procedures.

Flooding concerns: Improperly placed tunnels can cause automatic watering systems to run, therefore increasing the risk of flooded cages. However, valves can be replaced with a newer design to prevent floods, and properly placed tunnels can reduce this risk.