From rags to enrichment: Remodeling vivariums to fit new protocols for canines, nonhuman primates
Jennifer N. Browne, February 13, 2012 Download PDF
In light of new guidelines that govern the accreditation of animal laboratories, facility managers are reassessing their lab environments. These guidelines are outlined in the 2010 edition of the Guide for the Care and Use of Laboratory Animals, which is issued by the Assn. for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care (AAALAC). The most recent issues relate to research and husbandry protocols, enrichment criteria, and the architectural and engineering elements needed to operate an accredited vivarium.
The ripple effect of these changes has touched many, from the principal investigators who use animals for their research to the husbandry staff responsible for animal care. Timing is a concern, as some of the modifications must be implemented within one year, others within three years. With that in mind, research institutions must begin establishing new protocols if they wish to maintain their accreditation. To remain compliant, building owners and facility managers are enlisting design professionals to remodel their laboratories.
The following case study describes how older facilities can be remodeled. This example shows how a design team consolidated two different animal species each to its own building. One floor of each building was renovated, representing a total of 39,000 sq ft. The problems addressed by the team and their solutions offer insight into the challenges of renewing older facilities and dealing with one of the updated regulations that upholds "the need for laboratory animals to foster and express their specie-typical behaviors."
Enrichment: More than just housing
One way that institutions can meet the regulation for fostering specie-typical behaviors is by implementing enrichment protocols. "Enrichment" means that animals are welltreated in laboratories and have opportunities to exhibit their own behavior. Enrichment protocols are now given the same significance as other components of animal care, including veterinary care and nutrition. In other words, it is not enough for storage areas to contain food or supplemental clean cages. Vivarium managers now need to store means of enrichment such as toys, televisions with video capability (cart or wall-mounted), and fresh food treats.
Designers can help research institutions to interpret the implementation of enrichment protocols and their impact on interior space. For example, to meet the criteria of enrichment, cages have to be larger, which means that fewer animals can be housed in one room. Whereas animals were stored in a four-pack with oneover-one housing, the same amount of space can now only accommodate two non-human primates (NHP) or one dog as illustrated in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2. As a result, an animal population must be distributed among a larger number of rooms, or the same number of rooms can be used to house a smaller populations.
Institutions must make a choice
Enriched housing configurations allow fewer cages per room than before. Cleaning these rooms is also different, because it requires hose stations and trench drains rather than traditional floor drains. Dogs also need internal exercise spaces—contained areas where they can run freely.
By redesigning spaces to meet this regulation—"the need for laboratory animals to foster and express their specie-typical behaviors"—researchers gain more knowledge of each species' behavior and how the animals perceive or respond to their surroundings. For example, research shows that dogs are a lot quieter when they can see what is going on around them. In other words, it's the "not knowing" that causes dogs to bark incessantly. Designers have solved this problem easily, simply by putting large view lights at all door entrances. This relatively inexpensive change makes a significant difference to both the dogs and the husbandry staff working with them.
At the start, it is important to identify what will define, shape and ultimately determine the success of a project. The team needs to look at operations and evaluate how the spaces will be used, serviced and maintained. These factors all share equal importance, particularly for animal facilities. How designers unite and balance these decisions can influence the design and overall success of a vivarium project.
Changing the design of relatively old buildings to meet AAALAC's regulations, as this study illustrates, is challenging. This is particularly true for multi-vivarium campuses. For this project, the existing buildings were spread out on the campus, with different animals housed on different floors.
Meet the projected program and holding requirements, while addressing future expansion and flexibility.
Incorporate sustainable strategies pertaining to energy and labor efficiencies.
Provide an enriched environment for animals along with an ergonomic and userfriendly work environment for staff.
For this project, the designers started by completing a comprehensive feasibility analysis that showed the client the advantages of consolidating canine studies in one building and NHP studies in another. This change alone enabled easier cage cleaning procedures.
The design team then evaluated which buildings were most suited for which species. The decisions were based on the buildings' locations, their relationship to paths of circulation, and the proximity of the end-users to each species. The team and the client also considered which buildings would require the least amount of capital expenditure for enrichment-housing upgrades.
Having completed the initial studies to delineate what parts of the buildings had to be redesigned, the design team identified the nonnegotiable limitations of each building selected. This was challenging, because they had to:
Work within the constraints of the existing structural grid.
Prevent penetration of the relatively shallow depth of floor slabs when installing new trench drains on both sides of the holding rooms. (Trench drains are more useful for floors that house large animals.)
Prevent altering existing room circulation systems or established building egress.
The renovation design for the canine floor (a total of 14,000 sq ft) met enrichment-housing protocols while requiring the fewest amount of modifications and achieving these changes at the lowest cost. The design team:
Replaced swing doors on the dirty corridor side with sliding doors to allow for a maximum amount of larger kennels inside each holding room.
Added large vision panels to all holding room doors with the ability of blocking corridor light when necessary.
Re-purposed dirty corridors to double as animal exercise areas and added trench drains, hose stations, hand sinks, and safety gates. (Consolidating dirty corridors and exercise areas is extremely space-efficient.)
Consolidated the same species in one building. This way, multiple study groups of the same species share the same floor. If needed, they can grow or shrink in response to population swings of incremental studies.
Nonhuman primate areas
The renovation for the 25,000-sq ft NHP floor was like the canine areas in that the housing and procedure rooms in the NHP facilities maximize flexibility as study groups change in size. However, unlike dogs, NHP are often not removed from their rooms during cleaning procedures. Therefore the policies governing NHP husbandry and handling added another layer of complexity.
To address this problem, the design team consolidated this species to the same building, which allowed the entire project area for NHPs to be designated as "dirty." This greatly simplified circulation protocols.
As institutions try to stay current with AAALAC guidelines and regulations for accreditation, design professionals can help them facilitate and promote animal welfare, environmental enrichment and socialization. More than ever, animal behavioral traits continue to be observed. These characteristics will continue to evolve, respond and influence the approach plan and management of vivarium facilities.
Though no two projects are alike, there are always valuable lessons from one experience that can be brought to bear on another. The two most notable lessons of this case are:
Keep it simple. Among other things, the modularity of the building structure minimized remodeling costs. The savings were then used for several means of enrichment (caging, toys, fresh treats).
Don't lose sight of the forest for the trees. It is important to remember that the true added value of enrichment is to improve the well being of the research animals.
The overarching goal, if not the principal dogma of most lab planning projects, is to meet the future needs of research studies and the immediate needs of the program as a whole. Few would argue that the means to achieve those goals are linear. This is especially true when dealing with the complexities of remodeling older animal facilities to fit the newer protocols for enrichment.
The idea that research animals are to be housed humanely and treated respectfully is a moral principle, not an option. While there are many ways that designers can sustainably plan and enrich these critical environments, teams must continually challenge expected solutions and inspire smart and innovative design.