Wever, K. E., Geessink, f. J., Brouwer, M. A. E. et al. 2017. A systematic review of discomfort due to toe or ear clipping in laboratory rodents. Laboratory Animals 51(6), 583-600.
Toe clipping and ear clipping (also ear notching or ear punching) are frequently used methods for individual identification of laboratory rodents. These procedures potentially cause severe discomfort, which can reduce animal welfare and distort experimental results. However, no systematic summary of the evidence on this topic currently exists. We conducted a systematic review of the evidence for discomfort due to toe or ear clipping in rodents. The review methodology was pre-specified in a registered review protocol. The population, intervention, control, outcome (PICO) question was: In rodents, what is the effect of toe clipping or ear clipping, compared with no clipping or sham clipping, on welfare-related outcomes? Through a systematic search in PubMed, Embase, Web of Science and grey literature, we identified seven studies on the effect of ear clipping on animal welfare, and five such studies on toe clipping. Studies were included in the review if they contained original data from an in vivo experiment in rodents, assessing the effect of toe clipping or ear clipping on a welfare-related outcome. Case studies and studies applying unsuitable co-interventions were excluded. Study quality was appraised using an extended version of SYstematic Review Centre for Laboratory animal Experimentation (SYRCLE)’s risk of bias tool for animal studies. Study characteristics and outcome measures were highly heterogeneous, and there was an unclear or high risk of bias in all studies. We therefore present a narrative synthesis of the evidence identified. None of the studies reported a sample size calculation. Out of over 60 different outcomes, we found evidence of discomfort due to ear clipping in the form of increased respiratory volume, vocalization and blood pressure. For toe clipping, increased vocalization and decreased motor activity in pups were found, as well as long-term effects in the form of reduced grip strength and swimming ability in adults. In conclusion, there is too little evidence to reliably assess discomfort due to toe or ear clipping, and the quality of the available evidence is uncertain. Adequately powered, high-quality studies reporting reliable, relevant outcome measures are needed to accurately assess the impact of these identification techniques. Until more reliable evidence is available, any effect of toe clipping or ear clipping on animal welfare and study results cannot be confirmed or excluded.