Distress is usually an undesirable outcome of an experiment, so strategies for avoiding or minimizing it should be identified during the planning of the study. When distress arises from unintended sources, identification and elimination of the cause is the most obvious course of action. Distress can also be alleviated pharmacologically and nonpharmacologically. Two of the major causes of distress are lack of predictability and control of stimuli (Sapolsky, 1998), and it can be useful to condition animals to experimental or husbandry procedures that they will experience or to allow them to have some control over the stimuli imposed, for example, by providing a way to escape from staged aggressive encounters (as discussed in Chapter 7) or by providing nesting material so that a thermally challenged animal can better control its body temperature. Environmental modifications that can make an animal more comfortable, including changing the ambient temperature, increasing ease of access to food and water, and determining whether social contact would ameliorate or accentuate the stress burden. Appropriate enrichment of the social and structural environment can decrease distress by decreasing boredom and fearfulness, and facilitating coping (Bayne et al., 2002; Carlstead and Shepherdson, 2000; Mench, 1998). If possible, pain-related distress should be managed pharmacologically. However, if pain is the object of the study, pharmacologic options for reducing distress may be few or unavailable. In some studies, the use of sedatives, anxiolytics, dissociative anesthetics, and/or analgesics will not conflict with study goals; IACUCs should require that these options be discussed in animal-use protocols for neuroscience or behavioral research.
In all cases the veterinarian should be consulted regarding methods to minimize pain and distress. Accepted best practices for managing unrelieved pain and distress should be incorporated into the protocol design unless there is a scientific reason to do otherwise. The neuroscientist must provide assurance that unrelieved pain or distress will not continue past the point necessary to achieve the scientific goals of the study (ARENA-OLAW, 2002). Additionally, a mechanism for prompt reporting (for example, to the veterinarian or the IACUC) of animals that have been unexpectedly distressed or pained by the study should be developed and implemented (Bayne, 2000) and should be inherent in the animal-use protocol design.
Animal behavior can be an excellent measure for assessing overall health, indeed, the clinical signs used to diagnose disease in animals are often based on behavior (for example, signs of pain) (Fox, 1968)—although this approach has not been well documented in the veterinary or behavioral literature. A sound understanding of animal behavior is key for the veterinarian or other professional in assessing animal health. Recognition of the importance of behavior as related to animal health, and correspondingly to the veterinary profession, was formalized by