Songbirds have emerged as attractive model systems in many areas of biological research. Notably, songbirds are used in studies of the neurobiological and neuroendocrine mechanisms that shape vocal communication, and zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) are the most commonly studied species. In these studies, some form of chemical restraint is often needed to facilitate procedures and to minimize the risk of injury during handling. To determine the minimum dose of the benzodiazepine diazepam that is adequate to achieve deep sedation across individual birds, a low dose (5 mg/kg) and a high dose (10 mg/kg) was administered intramuscularly to 20 zebra finches. Results showed that a 10 mg/kg dose of diazepam resulted in deep sedation, defined by dorsal recumbency, which was achieved in minutes and lasted for several hours. Sedation was induced without complication, because no birds displayed signs of distress during sedation or lethargy after recovery, and was adequate to permit minimally invasive surgical procedures. In addition, the duration of sedation was dose dependent, which provides additional information for researchers who seek to match the depth of sedation to their experimental requirements. Finally, complete recovery from the deeply sedated state was induced by a 0.3 mg/kg dose of the antagonist flumazenil, which enabled birds to more rapidly resume homeostatic behaviors to promote well-being and survival. Together, these results indicate that diazepam is a safe and reliable sedative for use in zebra finches and support specific recommendations to achieve rapid and reliable sedation and recovery.
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