Institutional animal programmes involve four major processes:
- receipt, quarantine and separation of animals
- separation of species or animals for individual projects when necessary
- housing, care and sanitation
Husbandry tasks include feeding, watering, providing bedding, maintaining sanitation, disposing of waste including carcasses, controlling pests and veterinarian care. Materials handling is significant in most of these tasks, which include moving cages, feed, pharmaceuticals, biologics and other supplies. Handling and manipulating animals is also fundamental to this work. Sanitation involves changing bedding, cleaning and disinfecting, and cage washing is a significant sanitation task.
Institutional animal facilities include cages, hutches, pens or stalls within a room, barn or outdoor habitat. Adequate space, temperature, humidity, food and water, illumination, noise control and ventilation are provided in a modern facility. The facility is designed for the type of animal that is confined. Animals that are typically confined in institutional settings include group-housed rodents (mice, rats, hamsters and guinea pigs), rabbits, cats, dogs, mink, non-human primates (monkeys, baboons and apes), birds (pigeons, quail and chickens) and farm animals (sheep and goats, swine, cattle, horses and ponies).
Hazards and Precautions
Persons involved with the production, care and handling of pet, furbearer and laboratory animals are potentially exposed to a variety of biological, physical and chemical hazards that can be controlled effectively through available risk reduction practices. The biological hazards intrinsic to the various animal species of concern to personnel include: bites and scratches; highly sensitizing allergens in dander, serum, tissues, urine or salivary secretions; and a wide variety of zoonotic agents. Although the biological hazards are more diverse and potentially more devastating in the work environments supporting these types of animals, the physical and chemical hazards generally are more pervasive, as reflected by their contribution to illness and injury in the workplace.
Personnel involved in the care and production of pet, furbearer or laboratory animals should receive appropriate training in handling techniques and behaviour of the animal species in question, because incorrect handling of an intractable animal frequently is a precipitating cause of a bite or scratch. Such injuries can become contaminated with micro-organisms from the animal’s rich oral and skin microflora or the environment, necessitating immediate wound disinfection and prompt and aggressive antimicrobial therapy and tetanus prophylaxis to avert the serious complications of wound infection and disfigurement. Personnel should appreciate that some zoonotic bite infections can produce generalized disease and even death; examples of the former include cat scratch fever, rat bite fever and human orf infection; examples of the latter include rabies, B virus and hantavirus infection.
Due to these extraordinary risks, wire-mesh, bite-proof gloves can be beneficial in some circumstances, and the chemical restraint of animals to facilitate safe handling is sometimes warranted. Personnel also can contract zoonoses through the inhalation of infectious aerosols, contact of the organisms with the skin or mucous membranes, ingestion of infectious materials or transmission by specific fleas, ticks or mites associated with the animals.
All types of zoonotic agents occur within pet, furbearer and laboratory animals, including viruses, bacteria, fungi and internal and external parasites. Some examples of zoonoses include: giardiasis and campylobacterosis from pets; anthrax, tularaemia and ringworm from furbearers; and lymphocytic choriomeningitis, hantavirus and dwarf tapeworm infestation from the laboratory rodent. The distribution of zoonotic agents varies widely according to host animal species, location and isolation from other disease reservoirs, housing and husbandry methods, and history and intensity of veterinary care. For example, some of the commercially produced laboratory animal populations have undergone extensive disease eradication programmes and been maintained subsequently under strict quality control conditions precluding the reintroduction of diseases. However, comparable measures have not been applicable universally in the various settings for pet, furbearer and laboratory animal maintenance and production, enabling the persistence of zoonoses in some circumstances.
Allergic reactions, ranging from ocular and nasal irritation and drainage to asthma or manifesting on the skin as contact urticaria (“hives”), are common in individuals who work with laboratory rodents, rabbits, cats and other animal species. An estimated 10 to 30% of individuals working with these animal species eventually develop allergic reactions, and persons with pre-existing allergic disease from other agents are at higher risk and have an increased incidence of asthma. In rare circumstances, such as a massive exposure to the inciting allergen through an animal bite, susceptible persons can develop anaphylaxis, a potentially life-threatening generalized allergic reaction.
Good personal hygiene practices should be observed by personnel to reduce their likelihood of exposure to zoonoses and allergens during work with animals or animal by-products. These include the use of dedicated work clothing, the availability and use of hand washing and shower facilities and separation of personnel areas from animal housing areas. Work clothing or protective outer garments covering the skin should be worn to prevent exposure to bites, scratches and hazardous microbes and allergens. Personal protective equipment, such as impervious gloves, safety glasses, goggles or other eye protection, and respiratory protection devices (e.g., particle masks, respirators or positive air pressure respirators) appropriate to the potential hazards and the individual’s vulnerability, should be provided and worn to promote safe work conditions. Engineering controls and equipment design also can effectively reduce the exposure of personnel to hazardous allergens and zoonoses through directional air flow and the use of isolation caging systems that partition the workers’ and animals’ environments.
Personnel also encounter significant physical and chemical hazards during animal care. Routine husbandry tasks involve moving or lifting heavy equipment and supplies, and performing repetitive tasks, affording personnel the ubiquitous opportunity to develop cuts and crush injuries, muscular strains and repetitive motion injuries. Work practice redesign, specialized equipment and personnel training in safe work practices can be used to curb these untoward outcomes. Equipment and facility sanitation frequently relies on machinery operating on live steam or extremely hot water, placing personnel at risk of severe thermal injury. The correct design, maintenance and utilization of these devices should be assured to prevent personnel injury and facilitate heat dissipation to provide a comfortable work environment. Personnel who work around large equipment, as well as around rambunctious dog or non-human primate populations, may be exposed to extremely high noise levels, necessitating the use of hearing protection. The various chemicals used for cage and facility sanitation, pest control within the animal facility and external parasite control on animals should be reviewed carefully with personnel to ensure their strict adherence to practices instituted to minimize exposure to these potentially irritating, corrosive or toxic substances.