Roughan, J. V., Sevenoaks, T. 2019. Welfare and scientific considerations of tattooing and ear tagging for mouse identification. JAALAS 58(2), 142-153.

Ear tagging is perceived as less painful or stressful than tattooing and therefore is generally considered less harmful or costly to welfare. However, ear tags are more difficult to read than tattoos and can fall out, and mice usually require restraint for the tag numbers to be read accurately. We assessed the welfare and scientific implications of tattooing by using a commercial device compared with restraint in a device versus ear tagging. Male and female BALB/c mice (n = 32) underwent procedures after 1 wk of tail or nonaversive (tunnel) handling to determine whether tunnel handling reduced anxiety. Pain was evaluated using both the Mouse Grimace Scale (MGS) and manual and automated behavior analyses; light-dark preference testing and voluntary interaction with the handler's hand were used to assess anxiety. Tail inflammation after tattooing was quantified using bioluminescent imaging, and ear tag and tattoo misidentification rates were estimated from volunteer staff records. Tunnel handling reduced anxiety compared with tail handling. According to the MGS, tattooing was not more painful than ear tagging but caused significant tail inflammation and more agitation and anxiety. However, all tattoos were read correctly without handling, whereas all ear tagged mice needed restraint, and at least 25% of the tag codes were misread. Handling stress together with identification errors at this rate represent potentially serious concerns regarding the scientific integrity of data from studies using ear tagging. These concerns are unlikely to arise with tattooing. Although tattooing was stressful, so were restraint and ear tagging. However, considering the other major advantages of tattooing, the total costs associated with tattooing were not substantially greater than for ear tagging.

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