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Current Trends in Laboratory Rodent Enrichment

Each year, more than 120 million rodents are utilized for research purposes.

Laboratory rodents, like hooded PVGc rats and NOD, FVB, and BALB mice have traditionally been kept in small cages that constrain their natural behaviors such as nesting and burrowing. These housing conditions can lead to decreased physical fitness, impaired thermoregulation, and reduced welfare for the animals. This results in the development of abnormal stereotypic behaviors. Research indicates the stressful nature of conventional rat and mouse housing seems to have a negative impact on the health of rodents, raising doubts about the reliability and applicability of the data generated from research studies.

Moreover, rodents endure long-term consequences resulting from these laboratory housing conditions. Traditional rodent cages are small and offer minimal amenities, usually limited to food, water, and a granular flooring substrate like a corncob. In their natural habitat rodents engage in burrowing activities to create warm and secure nests for resting. Foraging for food stimulates cognitive, visual, and physical activity.  Rodents often explore larger home ranges, which can span several cubic meters within buildings or encompass dozens to hundreds of square meters of field habitat. Rodents have a strong instinct to explore and investigate their surroundings.

A significant portion of research involving rodents remains unpublished, lacks replication, or exhibits limited translatability.

Conventional laboratory rodent cages often cause abnormal behavior, cognitive pessimism, impaired sleep quality, and reduced resilience to acute stressors. For instance, rodents housed in cramped or uninteresting enclosures can exhibit prolonged tachycardia (increased heart rate) following injections or other stress-inducing events. Conversely, rodent enclosures with complex enrichment result in better study data, larger organs, and inhibition of cancer growth to name a few benefits.

Current laboratory rat and mouse enrichment practices include making the rodent’s environment more complex through enrichment products. The Council of Europe has required the provision of shelter or nesting for laboratory rodents. The Canadian Council on Animal Care also published guidelines for laboratory mice care that includes adequate stimulation through enrichment. These and other published guidelines increasingly recognize the importance of providing laboratory animals with complex environmental enrichment.

Creating better enclosure conditions is easy with enrichment products. Here are a few proven techniques.

Otto Wood Block Pine Cube Gallery
Pine Chew Blocks
wobust wodent wheel
Wodent Wheel

Our Casablanca Small Animal Cage is suitable for mice and rats.

The cage has two shelf platforms and ladders for climbing. Chew-proof metal shelves and ladders ensure this cage will hold up under tough conditions. The 6.5″ deep base allows plenty of room for bedding and burrowing. Each cage is made with durable plastic and chew-proof welded steel.

Casablanca Cage
Casablanca Cage

Supplement loose bedding with our specialty Rodent Bedding material. Simply unroll a section and tear it off. Mice especially enjoy shredding and nesting in this material.

rodent bedding pad roll on white background
Rodent Bedding Pad Roll

The Otto Cedar Forager has 1¼” drilled holes to stuff with treats or leave unfilled to create more paths for small rats or mice. The all-natural Cedar Forager provides a comforting space to explore.

Cedar Forager

For large rodents, the Guinea Pig Condo is the ideal exercise center. Made from polycarbonate, the condo has ramps, shelves, and plenty of air holes for ventilation.

If your facility requires autoclavable enrichment devices, consider the stainless-steel Minie Mouse Jogger Wheel or the Swinging Minie Jogger. Both exercise wheels are hand-built of sturdy stainless steel and can handle the rigors of laboratory experiments.

Minie Jogger
swinging minie jogger attached to cage
Swinging Minie Jogger

We have an entire catalog of rodent enrichment devices that will fit into your laboratory protocols. Rotating various enrichment products every month or so is a growing trend in laboratories relying on rodent-based experimentation. It keeps the animals engaged, lowers stress, and reduces stereotypic and aggressive behavior, not to mention better experimental outcomes.

If you require heavy-duty laboratory animal equipment, like our Rodent Cage transport Cart, or customized enclosures, please contact us to discuss your project.

rodent cage transport
Rodent Cage Transport Cart
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The Importance of Reliable Caging at Animal Care Facilities

Having well-made cages, pens, and enclosures makes caring for your animals easier, saves money, and keeps staff and animals safe. These four factors are to consider when planning on a new enclosure or modifying an existing containment area.

  • Animal welfare – The enclosure must be tailored to the health and safety of the type of animals it will hold.
  • Staff safety – The risk of accidental harm to the handlers must be minimized.
  • Ease of cleaning – Hygiene is of utmost importance.
  • Safety to visitors – Enclosures must minimize risk to the public.

Good enclosure design balances all four factors. Many animal facilities have windows so the public can see behind the scenes. The Denver Zoo added large viewing windows into their state-of-the-art veterinary care facility. Visitors can watch the animals being cared for. It is especially important to use enclosures that are clean, safe, and designed to comfortably house the animal. Rusty, dirty cages are bad for the animals and staff and give the impression the animals are kept in poor conditions. The same goes for private veterinary practices and animal shelters caring for dogs, cats, pigs, and even wild animals. In fact, The British Columbia SPCA has a program to house and rehabilitates wounded wild animals such as birds, rabbits, deer, and other wildlife.

Otto Environmental manufactures a full range of animal enclosure products for zoos, veterinary hospitals, universities, shelters, petting farms, and research facilities. We will work with you to design the optimal enclosure for your particular facility.

Our customizable horse stalls are functional and attractive. They are popular with public, private, and governmental equine facilities around the world.

Customizable Horse Stalls

Working with big cats like tigers, leopards, cheetahs, lions, and cougars? Our lion cages are designed to safely hold all types of cats including small species like lynxes, bobcats, ocelots, and other smaller felines. Our enclosures are constructed of rust-proof stainless steel and use the finest hardware for reliable service.

Stainless Steel Lion Cage

If you are maintaining or upgrading an existing enclosure, we have many door designs that are easily incorporated into new and existing enclosures and housing.

We custom-fabricate access doors that are secure and make feeding and training safe and easy. Otto Environmental also manufactures stainless-steel guillotine doors for indoor and outdoor applications. This door design is common at zoos but is also recommended by the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine for dog pens in animal shelters.

One of our most popular items is the Sliding Door Assembly. It makes it easy for handlers to transfer animals in and out of pens and enclosures. The precision-built hardware allows the door to be operated with little effort while holding up to daily use.

Sliding Door Assembly

Additionally, Otto Environmental manufactures stainless-steel access doors for your laboratory, clinic, zoo, or university.

Stainless Steel Personnel Doors

All of our cages, doors and access products are made of high-quality stainless steel and fabricated by skilled craftsmen for years of trouble-free service. Working with a builder or architect? We will work with them to find the right product for your project. Need a custom size? We’ll build it to your specifications!

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Preparing Your Animal Facility for Valentine’s Day!

Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! Everybody enjoys receiving a special Valentine’s gift. It shows they are loved and appreciated. The same goes for the animals in our care.

Donors and patrons like to include their favorite zoo, shelter, rescue, and petting park in their holiday celebrations. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to “matchmake” your animals with the public. Lee County Humane Society had a two-day Love Unleashed Valentine’s event to connect potential adopters to “fur friends.” The San Antonio Zoo is hosting its annual Wild at Heart Valentine’s dinner. Attendees get to dine on gourmet food while enjoying the company of Timothy and Ulma, the zoo’s hippos. Maybe your facility does not have gourmet dining or hippos. Not to worry. Here are some simple and fun valentines events you can adapt to your zoo, shelter, or animal care facility.

The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo offers a kids-only valentines night featuring pizza and a guided tour to meet small animals. Parents drop off their children while they enjoy a stroll through the zoo. For the 21+ crowd the zoo offers the Love is in the Air event. Visitors enjoy an adult beverage and take a romance-themed nighttime tour through the park.

Valentine’s Day is also a great time to offer friends and supporters a way to donate.

The Rogers Williams Park Zoo runs an annual Valentine’s Day Gift Guide as an online method for cash donations.

The Pennsylvania SPCA has an annual Send a Shelter Valentine. For a $10 donation, a special valentine is hung on the animal’s kennel door. The donation goes toward the shelter’s needs in caring for dogs, cats, birds, and small animals.

Supporters often like to donate specific items for their favorite animals. It provides a personal connection between the gift and the animal. Here are a few of the most popular enrichment toys that are gifted to shelters, zoos, veterinary practices, and other animal facilities.

Kong is a well-known brand among pet owners and animal care professionals. We carry the full line of Kong products. You’ll find toys for dogs, wolves, and other canids. Did you know Kong makes enrichment products for large animals like horses, lions, tigers, bears, dolphins, and primates? Kong has something for just about every animal.

Kong Zoo Horse Kong

Need something for a petting farm?

Consider these swine enrichment products as gift ideas. Children love small animals like mice, gerbils, hamsters, small primates, ferrets, and other furry friends. These small enrichment toys are ideal for Valentine’s gifts.

Pigs Playing with Easyfix Luna 50

Don’t forget the birds!

Parrots, cockatoos, cockatiels, and other birds are fascinated by colorful objects that rattle and can be manipulated. Visitors enjoy watching birds play with rings, bells, and mirrors. No matter what kind of bird, we’ve got a bird-friendly enrichment toy that will entertain and make a fun gift.

Avian Looking Bowl Mirror

Whether your facility is an exotic animal center or a local animal shelter, Valentine’s Day celebrations are an effective way to bring awareness to your important work and provide supporters with a way to grow closer to the animals in your care.

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Benefits of Wash Baskets for Zoo, Park, Shelter, and Laboratory

Its no secret that caring for an animal is a big job.

If you work at a zoo, shelter, laboratory, or petting farm, you’ve got dozens or hundreds of animals that need daily attention. Your time is valuable and anything that makes the daily tasks easier and faster frees up more time for other projects like enrichment and research activities. One of the most common “everyday” tasks at animal facilities is providing drinking water and nutrition. It takes time for staff to collect, clean, fill, and distribute food, water, and other essentials. Wash baskets, bottle fillers, carts, and other time-saving devices increase efficiency, and make daily tasks go quicker with less work.  That’s why we created the Otto Environmental basket line of products. Here’s how to reduce work and free up more time for you and your staff.

Stainless Steel Mesh Wash Basket
Bottle Filler 12
Stainless Steel Mesh Wash Basket in Feed Cart

Bottle baskets

Whether your providing animals with drinking water or dosing pharmaceuticals in a research study, bottle baskets make the job easier. Our stainless-steel bottle baskets are designed for easy loading. Dirty bottles are quickly collected and secured in the individual compartments. Put an end to “bouncing bottles” tumbling from a tray. If you use glass bottles, you know the hassle of cleaning up broken glass. We designed our bottle baskets with features not found in generic products.

  • 304 Stainless-steel wire construction
  • Sliding lid that won’t fall out or get lost
  • Stackable design keeps baskets stable
Bottle Basket 10
Bottle Basket Plus








Our basic Bottle Basket holds 24 bottles. The Bottle Basket Plus holds 24 8-oz  French square and low-profile bottles, and has duel sliding lids. If your facility requires a smaller-capacity basket, consider the Bottle Basket 12. It holds 12 16-oz bottles. To make filling the bottles easier, use a bottle filler. Fill all the bottles at once!

Bottle Basket 12

Ergonomics and safety matter!

Carrying baskets of bottles and other materials can be tricky in a busy lab, zoo, or shelter. Slip and fall incidents occur in every work environment. Floors are often wet or slippery. The animal enclosures may be some distance from the preparation area. A basket cart makes it easier to retrieve and deliver bottles. Carts relieve muscular microtrauma brought on by repetitive motion, keeping staff in good health and positive mental outlook. There is a cart for every type of facility. Need to transport a lot of baskets? The Bottle Basket Cart SE has it covered. Speaking of covers, we’ve got lightweight covers and carriers for single baskets.

Bottle Basket Cart SE

Hygiene can’t be ignored!

It doesn’t matter if you maintain a veterinary practice, large lab, or a vast zoo, enclosure hygiene is critical for animal health. Best practices and IACUC protocols require washing, decontaminating, or sterilizing equipment like water bottles and other equipment. Our stainless-steel wash baskets make it easy to power-wash, degrease, or autoclave bottles, tools, and enrichment devices. The same applies to our bottle baskets.

Stainless Steel Wash Basket

The benefits of baskets

No matter what type of animals you’re working with, baskets provide an array of benefits to staff and the animals in your care.


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The Benefits of Ball-Style Enrichment Products

There’s something fun and exciting about rolling, throwing, and catching a ball.

Maybe you’ve played fetch with a dog or watched a cat bat a ball around. The truth is many animals, both exotic and domestic, obtain entertainment and comfort with ball enrichment devices. Balls facilitate exercise, exploration, interaction with the environment and other animals, and can also be a bond-forming between animals and caregivers. We have ball-style environmental enrichment products for all sizes of animals ranging from mice to hoof stock. Keep in mind when it comes to enrichment, the only limit is your imagination. A tough dog ball works with pigs, horses, and primates. A tiny bird ball can be used with small cats and even rodents like mice and rats.

The Jolly Ball Push-N-Play was designed to be an indestructible dog ball. These balls hold up to fetching, chewing, and rough play. They even float! That makes the Jolly Ball ideal for pigs, zebras, wolves, and primates ranging from apes to macaques. The Texas Biomedical Research Institute recommends the use of balls for primate manipulative enrichment. In particular, hard plastic balls, like the Jolly Ball, are recommended.

Jolly Ball Push-N-Play

Feeder balls, like the Stubbs England Horsey Ball, have proven to be effective enrichment with a variety of animals like zebras, horses, pigs, wolves, coyotes and other foraging animals.

The Horsey Ball is a “dribble feeder.” The idea is to load the ball with appropriate biscuit or kibbled foods. As the device is rolled, nudged, or handled, food is slowly dispensed. This multisensory enrichment using treat-based puzzle-solving has proven effective with swine, primates, and bears. Treat-dispensing balls have even helped with captive walruses!

Stubbs England Horsey Ball

Research continues to show that enrichment is beneficial and even essential for small animal health in zoo, shelter, and research settings. Soft ball products like the Ferret Sport Ball are easy for animals like mice, rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and other small mammals to nudge, carry, roll and nestle. The Atomic Nut Ball is an all-wood toy designed to be chewable. This satisfies the desire of rabbits and other small animals to gnaw and chew, preventing boredom and stereotypical behavior in enclosures and petting displays.

Atomic Nut Ball
Ferret Sport Ball

Don’t forget the birds!

Conures, African grays, cockatoos, cockatiels, and other parrots love to manipulate, taste, rattle, and tug on small balls. Foraging balls provide puzzle-solving activities with a food reward and have been shown to be effective with parrots. The hanging Buffet Ball provides parrots with needed visual, tactile, and taste stimuli.

Buffet Ball

Caring for large animals? They’ll benefit from large balls!

Amber Barnes, writing about horse enrichment for, recommends rolling enrichment devices coupled with food dispensing. Sheep, goats, cattle, large primates, and bears will benefit from products like the huge 30” Planet Ball. It’s big, tough, and easy to roll!

30″ Planet Ball

No matter what type of animals you have in your facility, there are ball-style enrichment devices that improve animal health, quality of life, and research outcomes.

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What’s the deal with KONG?

You probably recognize the KONG brand of dog toys. Did you know KONG has been producing enrichment products for exotic and companion animals since 1976?

KONG is recognized by animal professionals around the world as a manufacturer of exceptional enrichment products for all kinds of animals. Whether in a zoo, home, laboratory, or shelter, these products will help animals feel secure in their environment.

KONG products have been the subject of primate enrichment research studies and found to provide effective enrichment through novel product design. The Texas Biomedical Research Institute recommends KONG products like the Hanging Rubber Forager and Stuff a Ball, in their Primate Enrichment Manual. But the Kong enrichment products go beyond primates.

hanging red rubber foraging device
Hanging KONG Classic

Amber Banes, writing about enrichment for horses for the Open Sanctuary Project, says “Add things they can manipulate with their hooves, like balls, and things they can toss around with their mouths.” KONG manufactures durable balls suitable for horses and other hooved animals. Research indicates that horses and other animals fare better when they are offered grazing variety and challenges. Slow-feeding reduced stereotypical behavior. The KONG Zoo Classic is designed to make it easy to provide this form of enrichment.

kong zoo classic gallery with sku
KONG Zoo Classic (3 Styles)

You’re familiar with KONG dog chew toys but they’re great for all canines. Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (Phoenix, AZ) found that KONG toys stuffed with treats helped dogs stay calm while in quarantine. You can use the same technique for all canids: like wolves, jackals, and foxes. Whether in an enclosure, during transport, while in veterinary care, or when acclimating a new arrival.

Perdue University’s Center for Animal Welfare Science notes that canine boredom is a real issue and can be countered with enrichment products stuffed with treats, tossing a ball during human-canine interaction, and even tug of wars with other canines. It’s also important to periodically change the enrichment toys to keep the animals interested and challenged.

We can’t forget about cats, large or small!

Don’t be fooled by their stoic behavior. Unhappy felines can appear calm but have elevated stress hormones. The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM) have published the Environmental Needs Guidelines for cats. Larger cats in zoo and park environments have similar enrichment needs. All have a desire to stalk, pounce, chew and explore interesting scents, tastes, and textures. KONG has created a full range of enrichment products for any sized cat. The Nibble Crtitters Catnipillar is ideal for small cats. The Duratreat Ring is a food puzzle that you fill with interesting scents and tastes and can be enjoyed by larger cats.

There is no limit to where you’ll be able to use KONG products in your animal care facility. Chickens and other birds can become stressed if not provided with an interesting environment. One of the ways to keep birds happy is through the use of enrichment toys like colorful balls and feeding puzzles.

chickens playing with kong genius leo
KONG Genius Leo

No matter what animals your caring for KONG has safe, durable products that will fit right into your enrichment program.


YouTube video of KONG manufacturing:

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December Gift Giving

Holiday and end-of-year donor support tips

The holidays are upon us and we’re thinking about gift-giving to friends, family, and pets. The good news is many people like to donate to their local zoo, animal shelter, and rescue facility. It’s also a time of end-of-year giving for tax purposes. Maybe you’re making a wish-list of items your facility needs for the 2023 season. But how to get the message out there to friends and donors? Here are some effective methods for easily getting the word out in time for holiday giving.

Social media

Instagram, Facebook, and other social media outlets are an ideal way to let people know they can give animals a holiday gift. Simply create a holiday post that links to your donation page on your facility’s website.

Support for specific animals

Many people like to support their favorite animal. Some are fans of primates while others love otters or canines. Animal shelters appeal to small animals like dogs and cats. Large animal rescues, depending on their focus, will have horses, pigs, alpacas, and other types of large animals. You can create multiple social media posts, using a variety of animal-specific images and products, to let your donors know how to support their favorite animal.

Get specific with your wish list

One of the most effective ways of communicating your needs is with a wish list. Share it on your website, by email or at the facility. Make a list of products and explain how they enrich the animal’s lives. Show an image of the item and animal that benefits from the enrichment product. Feel free to use our product images, like for this Cylinder.

Polyethylene Cylinder


Don’t shy away from a little creative marketing

Slogans like “Giving gifts is for the birds” may seem a little corny, but it resonates with animal-lovers. Tell a story that helps donors identify with the need.

Some of our animals’ favorite toys are ones that roll, wobble and are just fun to pounce on or chase. These items are important for the animal’s physical and mental well-being, but they wear out over time. Help us replenish our animals’ worn-but-well-loved toys!

You can also reinforce your facility’s goals and the importance of enrichment products for animal well-being:

By purchasing a present for Your Facility’s Name, you help our animal keepers/caregivers/veterinarians provide a happy life for the animals.

Be sure to explain that:

These products support research, help refurbish our animals’ habitats, and provide toys that enable animals to express their natural behaviors through play.

In-person events

If your facility has a holiday open house, use that opportunity to share your wish list and animal’s needs. It’s a great time to show worn-out enrichment toys and explain how important new ones are to the animals.

Otto Environmental is dedicated to helping you care for the animals in your care by providing high-quality animal enrichment products and systems. We wish you a happy holidays and look forward to serving you in the new year.


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Customer Favorite: Kong Quest Wishbone

dog excited by kong quest wishbone

Like most animals, dogs need to play. It is how they socialize, explore their environment and burn off excess energy.

A good game of fetch or tug-of-war can be great fun for you and your pup, but there are also a few games that only dogs can play alone – like the Kong Quest Wishbone.  

kong quest wishboneDogs that don’t have the opportunity to play with different toys or people can get bored quickly and begin to exhibit problem behaviors, like anxiety, chewing, digging, jumping up, biting, and even depression. As with all animals, it’s essential to have a variety of dog toys.  

Dog toys like the Kong Quest Wishbone have different functions, and to get the most fun out of your dog toys, you can also stuff them and freeze them for your pup and keep some other toys hidden away for later on.  

Dog toy trunks come in handy for this, especially if you’re like us and enjoy perusing the pet product sections, whether for dogs, horses, cats, or livestock. 

The Kong Quest Wishbone is an excellent toy for dogs that like to chew. It’s crafted from non-toxic, durable rubber and has a hollow center that you can fill with treats as a tasty reward. The Kong Quest Wishbone is also great for interactive playtime. You can hold one end of the toy while your dog chews on the other or use it to play tug-of-war. 

The Kong Quest Wishbone is available in two sizes: small and large, and is crafted in a few colors like purple (large breeds) and orange (small size).  

Kong toys are known for their durability and quality, and the Kong Quest Wishbone is no exception. It is made from high-quality materials and is built to last. It’s also dishwasher proof for an easy wash!  

If you are looking for a fun pet toy that will keep your dog entertained and mentally stimulated, the Kong Quest Wishbone is a good chew interactive dog toy. Here’s the takeaway: 

The Wishbone is a treat dispensing toy with loads of personality! 

  • Features a unique design to challenge and engage 
  • Cleans teeth and helps with teething 
  • Allows for high-value treats and kibble insertion for fun, interactive play. 
  • Crafted in assorted colors 
  • Suitable for all breeds and life stages 

Fill the Kong Quest Wishbone with your dog’s favorite treats or kibble, and watch them have a blast trying to get to the goodies inside. Not only is the Kong Quest Wishbone a great way to keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated, but it also helps to clean their teeth and massage their gums.  

The takeaway with this interactive dog toy is that it keeps your pup entertained while also being suitable for their health! The Kong Quest can be helpful for the following: 

  • Separation anxiety 
  • Puppy teething 
  • Boredom 
  • Canine depression 
  • Excessive barking 
  • Noise sensitivity 
  • Minimize destructive behaviors 
  • Anxious behaviors 
  • Mental stimulation 
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder 
  • Recouping from surgery 
  • Suitable for rescues and shelters to ease boredom and stress 

All-in-all, remember that dogs feel a bunch of emotions just like us. From boredom, sadness, anxiety, and stress to excitement and a need for play, our interaction with our dogs via interactive dog toys allows for further bonding and a deeper understanding of our dogs.  

Ultimately, interactive dog toys like the Kong Quest Wishbone help to create a well-rounded dog that is happy and healthy. Also, they are less likely to develop problem behaviors when combined with positive training, dog sports, pet vacays, and more.