Undernutrition of dams and pups disrupts the retrieval efficiency of mothers. However, if the mothers are assessed in their home cages, they spend more time with their litters. In the present study the effect of test conditions on pup retrieval behavior of mothers receiving a 25% (well-nourished group) and 8% casein diet (undernourished group) was examined. In agreement with previous studies, undernourished mothers spent more time with their litters than well-nourished dams as lactation proceeded. Pup retrieval behavior varied with test conditions. In the first experiment, the maternal behavior of dams was assessed by the standard procedure (pups were separated from their mother and scattered over the floor of the home cage). The mother was then returned and the number of retrieved pups was recorded. From day 3 to 8, the retrieval efficiency of undernourished dams decreased, while the retrieval efficiency of well-nourished mothers did not vary. In the second experiment, mothers were subjected to a single retrieval test (on day 9 of lactation) using the procedure described for experiment 1. No difference between well-nourished and undernourished mothers was observed. In the third experiment, seven-day-old pups were separated from the mothers and returned individually to a clean home cage. Dietary treatment did not affect the retrieval efficiency. However, undernourished dams reconstructed the nest more slowly than did well-nourished dams. Taken together, these results suggest that pup retrieval behavior of the undernourished mother is not impaired by dietary restriction when the maternal environment is disturbed minimally.
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