Handing Lab Rats – best secrets for success


The expert principal investigator with added number of years in the experience column trains one or may be two students how to perform a tail bleed or an intra-peritoneal injections in a rat or 2, with the practice that used a decade before at least and the students are left on their own for the rest of the experiments. They are also responsible for teaching the junior students, the rats receive different doses of the drug and also the animals show to be stressed or injured. The cells you extract or the compounds produced by the rats are not exactly what you expected with the theoretical knowledge.

This sounds familiar to many of us right?

Inexpert training, limited practice and unhappy/stressed handlers and/or rats leads the research to be compromised. At this current era the encouragement and training towards lab rodents are not adequate.

As an Immunology researcher when I had to work with rats I was asked to get some practice from a senior student who was working with rodents (whom herself has learnt from a senior of her own). I was not satisfied with the advise and opted to be trained from veterinarian of the Medical Research Institute of the city. I never regretted my decision and I learnt a lot. Also my journey with the lab rodents for more than a year taught me many things. So I want to share some of them here with you all.

01. Don’t be stressed

As the very first thing do not be scared of rodents. When you are scared of them as you know your heart rate raises up and they could notice our pounding heart and that make the rodents panic too. As their adrenalin peak up they try to escape from the handlers and it makes hardest to perform the experiments. The behaviour of the rats changes and that making their biological behaviour would be effected too producing unexpected results in the experiments.

02. Learn/ Practice from someone who is currently working with the animals

When you decide to learn some thing it is always better to learn from the best place available. Learn from touching, holding and feeding them. May be including how their food is made. Practice the specific techniques and also train yourself regularly. Once you do not train/educate regularly in animal handling, you loose the grip. Also observe how your educator handles the animals. Ask them whether you could drop in on a day when they do their work and observe. It will do great benefits.

03. Befriend your animals

Many of you might have pets at home or at least would love watching cat videos right? Once you get your rats for the experiment, you get number of tiny friends for you. Enjoy them. Rats have poor vision, but they are known for their excellent hearing and smelling skills. You can make use of these two senses. It works well and you will enjoy too. Have a playlist for the rats time. You can have different playlists for feeding time and experiment time. Rats are very smart and intelligent. The music make them calm too. it will ease your time with the rats. Use the same perfume and body lotion when you go to the rats. They will know its you and will not be afraid. I know this sound crazy, but talk to them with love in your voice and heart. Let them know your voice. Every time when you feed them take a rat at a time to your hands, give them a treat, hold them for a minute and let them back in the cage without any experimental use.

These ways make them way friendly with you and there wont be any nightmare in holding them and injecting of doing oral feeds.

04. Always de-stress them before you do any scientific procedure

You can hold the rats closer to body. Can let them hide around your elbow or let them stay inside the lab coat pockets. They love darkness, so don’t hold them directed to light source. Support their weight while lifting and always be gentle in touching – never make your grip tight. Have their tail at your arm side and support their body by your palm.

05. Q and Q – Be quick and quiet

Plan every single movement of your before you open up the cage and take the rat in hands. Place all your required materials in order and then take them in hand do the procedure as quick as you can. Do not drag it and make them go through the uncomfortable for long. Always be gentle with your voice and the noises you could make with the materials being handled, because the rats have higher hearing ability and loud noise could increase their heart rate. Also place them back in the cage sooner before they respond.

06. Do not let your mood/ illness effect them

Make it a habit to choose calmness and peace while working with rats. If anger or anxiety is troubling you, take few minutes break and pull yourself back before you enter the place. Try to be in your best health while working with them. You don’t want to mishandle them because you are sick on that day or infect them with the microbes you are carrying. Unless it might not only affect the experiments, but also the wellbeing of the rats.

07. Enjoy what you do

The last thing I wanted to share with you here is enjoying what you do, will help you to do the best. The probability of doing errors is less when you like what you do. Also if there is any procedure that you are much uncomfortable doing of get help of someone or try to accommodate any modifications which will help you to like it.


Keep Researching friends!


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