Maternal aggression in rats: Changes over pregnancy and lactation in a sprague‐dawley strain

Anne D. Mayer, Sydney Reisbick, Harold I. Siegel, Jay S. Rosenblatt

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62 Scopus citations


Maternal aggression in a Sprague‐Dawley strain of laboratory rat (Charles River CD) was explored from Day 1 after mating on Day 0 through Day 24 of lactation (L0‐L24). Aggression toward unfamiliar male “intruders” during 10‐min tests was low among nonpregnant, nonlactating females and during the first 10 days of gestation. Frequency of attack on intruders increased moderately but significantly by Gestation Day 16 (G16; Experiment 1) or G21 (Experiment 2), a prepartum phenomenon not previously reported in laboratory rats. Levels of aggression were highest, however, during the first 9 days of lactation, when attacks averaged more than 6 per 10‐min session. Attacks declined sharply in frequency after L14 and by L24 did not exceed levels observed among nonpregnant females. Experiment 3 examined the importance of the test site (home cage with nest and pups, if any, vs unfamiliar cage without nest or pups) to agonistic behavior associated with pregnancy and lactation. Late pregnant females tested in a novel cage were not aggressive; however, females tested shortly after delivering their pups were highly aggressive, averaging over four attacks per 5‐min session. In novel cage tests frequency of attack remained high through L4 but declined significantly by L7. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that maternal aggression at its onset is primarily under hormonal control, but becomes increasingly dependent upon external factors, presumably pup stimulation, during the postpartum period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)29-43
Number of pages15
JournalAggressive Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


  • nest defense
  • parental
  • prepartum


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