Bite Wounds and Dominance Structures in Male and Female African Spiny Mice (Acomys cahirinus): Implications for Animal Welfare and the Generalizability of Experimental Results

Animals (Basel). 2023 Dec 23;14(1):64. doi: 10.3390/ani14010064.


Bite wounds due to aggression in male laboratory mice (Mus musculus) are a major welfare concern, often leading to attrition, chronic activation of the innate immune system, and significant impacts on the experimental results derived from the use of these animals as models. Bite wounding within the home-cage of spiny mice (Acomys cahirinus)-a valuable research model for wound healing and menstruation-is poorly characterized. While we have anecdotally observed frequent bite wounding in Acomys, the frequency of aggression within the home-cage, the severity of the bite wounds, and the types of dominance structures remain unstudied. Here, we report that 46% of Acomys cages in our colony had at least one bite wound over the course of a year and that same-sex pairs fought in the home-cage 10% of the time during their dark/active phase. Both sexes inflicted wounds and frequently engaged in agonistic behaviors, even with stable dominance structures. We found that females inflicted less severe bite wounds in same-sex housing. Also, aged females in same-sex pairs were never observed fighting, and no bite wounds were observed in aged Acomys. These results suggest that we should consider whether bite wounding negatively impacts our experimental results since physical trauma is known to alter menstrual cycling and healing.

Keywords: aggression; animal welfare; bite wounds; fight wounds; sex differences; social dominance.