MELBOURNE, Australia — It’s usually not a good time to be a rodent in Australia. On farms throughout the nation, mice are being poisoned and chased out of fields by determined farmers because the nation suffers one of many worst mouse plagues in living memory.
But at one lab in Canberra, the nation’s capital, a choose group of lab rats has had fairly a completely different expertise. Researchers have tickled them every single day for a month to see if it should enhance their emotional well-being, and maybe make them higher fashions for analysis.
“It is widely accepted that happy animals lead to improved research outcomes and ultimately better patient care, so we are always looking for new techniques, equipment and skills that will improve,” in accordance to a poster concerning the undertaking from the Center for Health and Medical Research in Canberra.
It provides, “Rat tickling is a technique used by animal technicians to mimic the play-fighting behavior that juvenile rats engage in. By participating in this behavior with our rats, we aim to lessen the impact of handling and increase positive associations with human interaction.”
Rats in captivity have been tickled in Britain and elsewhere. Rats made ultrasonic vocalizations once they had been tickled and subjected to different mild touches on completely different physique components, previous experiments have shown. This seems to be the primary time, nonetheless, that an experiment concerning the apply has been performed in Australia.
The Australian Capital Territory (Canberra is its largest metropolis) in 2019 turned the primary jurisdiction within the nation to acknowledge animals as sentient beings, and imposed penalties for his or her mistreatment.
So, simply how do you tickle a rat?
It’s extra of a science than an artwork, in accordance to Carlee Mottley, a laboratory animal technician on the University of Wollongong and a licensed rat tickler (no, actually, there’s an online course for that.)
“There is a right and wrong way to tickle a rat,” mentioned Ms. Mottley, who was not concerned within the experiment on the middle in Canberra. “If you do it the wrong way, it can be non-beneficial. At best, they could not know what you’re doing, and, at worst, it could hurt them.”
According to the middle’s researchers, there are three correct methods to tickle a rat.
Dorsal contact: Touch the again of the rat’s neck with fast, mild actions. Avoid the tail and haunches, as these areas are the place aggression from different rats is directed.
Flipping: Gently restrain the rat round its entrance legs and carry it whereas rotating your wrist to flip the rat onto its again. This motion is “the most difficult part of rat tickling but the most beneficial,” the middle mentioned, because it carefully mimics what occurs when rats wrestle.
Pinning: Tickle the rat between its entrance legs and on its chest whereas making use of a agency, fixed strain to hold the rat on its again.
And what’s it like tickling a rat?
“It’s fun,” Ms. Mottley mentioned. “The last step is you flip them and let them go, and they’ll turn around and come straight back,” she mentioned. “You put out your arm to tickle them again and they’ll try and climb up your arm because they want more.”
Ian Allsop, the lead researcher and a senior animal technician on the Center for Health and Medical Research, mentioned in an e-mail that the undertaking “was really to promote the existing and well-tested research in regards to improving rat welfare through tickling.”
The technicians in Canberra tickled a group of rats every single day for 4 weeks and tracked their reactions. Another management group went, sadly, untickled.
The researchers discovered that tickled rats usually responded higher to human dealing with and had been much less fearful. And the rats weren’t the one ones having a good time. “Tickling is also fun for the technicians!” the middle mentioned in its poster, the place it shared its outcomes.
As tempting as all this may occasionally make you would like to sprint out and tickle rats indiscriminately, Paul McGreevy, a professor of animal conduct and welfare on the University of New England, has a warning.
“It’s a mistake to assume all rats are into tickling, and a mistake to assume that all humans are equally good at tickling rats,” he mentioned.
Just like people, he added, completely different rodents have particular person preferences for the way they like to be tickled.
“Some of them will totally be into being handled, some of them will find tickling pleasing if done well, and others will want to avoid any physical pressure imposed upon themselves,” he mentioned.
“If there was a way for every rat to get the dose of tickling they want, that would be ideal.”