Toenail Trim Saves Lab Mice From Common, Life-threatening Skin Condition

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Millions of laboratory mice have problems with a skin condition known as ulcerative dermatitis-a major scourge for these pets and the most common reason behind unplanned euthanasia. To address the problem, which has bedeviled veterinarians long, Adams and his colleagues designed a straightforward plastic device that quickly immobilizes the animals so that caregivers can quickly cut their dagger like claws. Some 93 percent of the mice whose toenails were trimmed were permanently cured of the problem, as they were struggling to continue self-traumatizing the affected area despite still scratching, the research workers found.

And the results held up even after the pets’ toenails had regrown, as mice with clipped nails lived more than 3 is much longer than their counterparts who have been treated with topical ointments. The study, the first ever to systematically go through the impact of toenail trims, will be published online Jan. 6 in PLOS ONE. Adams said the technique not only saves mice from hurting and needing to be euthanized as a humane requirement but simplifies their care also. The Stanford veterinarians were able to clip the animals’ nails in two minutes or less, saving them the right time and expense of applying daily anti-inflammatory ointments, that have been only minimally effective in curbing inflammation, he said.

The technique may also help protect the integrity of mouse studies, preventing the dependence on pharmacologic treatments that can bargain study results, Adams said. Most of all, experts need fewer mice for the same research, as they expect fewer loss, so it’s a great example of how “good welfare is good technology,” he said.

At Stanford, “we don’t euthanize many mice anymore credited to ulcerative dermatitis because we use the toenail cut,” he said. Adams said the cause of ulcerative dermatitis in mice is unidentified, with experts speculating that it is related to genetics, diet, environment, behavior, or a combination of the factors. The condition typically shows up on the nape of the pets’ neck of the guitar as a red, inflamed area. As the lesions itch, animals start scratching the area with their sharp hind claws as many as 20 to 25 times a minute, he said. With the repeated irritation, the problem spreads, often to the face, flank and back again, with animals self-destructing over time literally.

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Veterinarians have tried many approaches to treatment, involving the application of a topical anti-inflammatory ointment typically. These have produced variable results, though studies have never shown these to be more than 65 percent effective, the researchers report. Moreover, these ointments need to be applied daily, causing a major burden for pet care providers.

In 2013, the research workers started providing veterinarians at Stanford the freedom to apply either the topical anti-inflammatory Tresaderm to mice with ulcerative dermatitis or even to trim their toenails under anesthesia. The toe-trimmed mice got an application of Vetericyn also, a kind of bleach that inhibits bacterial growth and helps calm inflammation.

The mice were of different strains and were housed in five facilities. After a year, Adams and his colleagues returned and analyzed the records for 137 animals, including 98 who had been treated with Tresaderm and 39 who had their toenails trimmed, to observe how well they do. They found that animals with clipped fingernails did better significantly, with 93.3 percent healing within 2 weeks.