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Research funded to investigate rats’ ultrasonic vocalisations
It is hoped that this research will continue developments to monitor emotional responses in an objective and non-invasive way.
It will study if vocalisations can help us understand rats’ emotions.

A new study has been funded to study rats' vocalisations to better understand their emotional responses.

The research has been provided with funding of £565,942 from the National Centre for the Replacement, Refinement & Reduction of Animals in Research (NC3Rs), with the intention of discovering whether two different refinement approaches result in positive welfare, and if this is reflected in the rats’ vocalisations.

A significant part of the study focuses on ‘refinement’ which, in the context of animal research, refers to the use of methods which cause the least suffering to the animals. This relies on the researcher’s ability to objectively assess an animal’s emotional response to the approaches.

Deciphering rats’ ultrasonic vocalisations will allow scientists to record their emotional responses without the need to remove them from the cage to conduct complex behavioural procedures. The research aims to establish whether these vocalisations are an effective way of understanding their emotions, during both acute experiences and their general ‘mood’.

Researchers from the University of Bristol will measure the rats’ responses in relation to two elements of refinement – habituation to human handling and a novel caging system. They will record the rats’ vocalisations during these increases in space and social interaction to measure how these responses differ.

The concept follows previous research from the university, which translated human behavioural psychology into accurate measurements of animals’ emotional experiences. One such procedure, the affective bias test, demonstrated that the high frequency calls of rats provided a measure of individual emotion.

It is hoped that this research will continue developments to monitor emotional responses in an objective and non-invasive way.

The research will be led by Emma Robinson, a professor of psychopharmacology at the University of Bristol.

She said: "We hope our study will show that by measuring rats' ultrasonic vocalisations it will provide a simple and easy to use method to evaluate refinements.

“Our approach will not require costly equipment or specialist expertise meaning it could be readily set-up and utilised within any animal research facility."

Image © Shutterstock

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Charities' XL bully neutering scheme closes

News Story 1
 A scheme that helped owners of XL bully dogs with the cost of neutering has closed to new applications due to high demand.

The scheme, run by the RSPCA, Blue Cross, and Battersea, has helped 1,800 dogs and their owners after XL bullies were banned under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

In England and Wales, owners of XL bully dogs which were over one year old on 31 January 2021 have until 30 June 2024 to get their dog neutered. If a dog was between seven months and 12 months old, it must be neutered by 31 December 2024. If it was under seven months old, owners have until 30 June 2025.

More information can be found on the Defra website. 

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