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Open Access Neonatal Anesthesia for Studies of Hamster Parental Behavior when Infanticidal Aggression Is a Possibility

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Experiments involving investigation of the neuroendocrine basis for paternal care in rodents risk activation of aggressive behavior toward pups. To minimize pain and suffering during tests of parental responsiveness requiring retrieval of a displaced pup to its nest, a method of anesthetizing the pup was developed in Djungarian hamsters, Phodopus campbelli. A surgical plane of anesthesia, as measured by criteria, such as respiratory depression, loss of the pedal reflex, and failure to increase respiratory rate or to vocalize in response to handling, was achieved by use of intraperitoneal administration of a combination of ketamine and xylazine. Both parents (tested separately) expressed normal behavior toward anesthetized pups. In random order, a saline-injected or anesthetized pup was displaced from its nest in the home cage. There were no differences in pick-up or retrieval rates between saline and anesthetized pups for either parent. A third test using an unmanipulated pup confirmed that parental behavior was not reduced toward an anesthetized pup. However, if anesthetized pups were tested first among littermates, retrieval by males was less likely. This method will, therefore, underestimate retrieval behavior in males, but not females. Adult male hamsters that had never been parents also expressed expected behavior by attacking the pup in 45% of cases. This method provides an efficient and effective means of protecting pups while allowing adults to express a wide range of parental and infanticidal behaviors. It also has application in behavioral screening of transgenic strains toward unrelated young.

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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Biology, Queen's University, Kingston, ON, Canada K7L 3N6

Publication date: April 1, 2004

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  • Comparative Medicine (CM), an international journal of comparative and experimental medicine, is the leading English-language publication in the field and is ranked by the Science Citation Index in the upper third of all scientific journals. The mission of CM is to disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed information that expands biomedical knowledge and promotes human and animal health through the study of laboratory animal disease, animal models of disease, and basic biologic mechanisms related to disease in people and animals.

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