Acetates: A Means of Communication

December 18, 2018

Picture of animal room acetate box with multi-colored blank acetatesHow can you ensure your animals receive the special chow your research requires? How do you tell your room husbandry technician that you don’t want your breeding cages disturbed immediately following a new birth? How do the veterinary personnel know which cage needs immediate attention due to a health concern?

The answer to these questions and more is through the animal room communication system!

The Unit for Laboratory Animal Medicine (ULAM) utilizes acetates, which are colored, plastic cards placed over animal cage cards to communicate information between lab personnel and ULAM personnel.

There are five different acetate colors used – red, blue, yellow, green, and clear. The meaning conveyed by an acetate varies by the color and orientation, i.e. whether the acetate is placed horizontally or vertically over the animal cage card.

When multiple acetates are placed on one cage card, they must be placed from smallest to largest in size. This is to allow easier viewing of each acetate when multiple acetates are used; red acetates are always placed in front for cages with multiple acetates to ensure priority.

Below is a table indicating what each acetate color & orientation means

A similar guide will be located in each animal room for reference. While the meaning of each acetate is crucial, who can remove an acetate is also important to understand. Looking at the last two columns of the table below, it can be ascertained that the person who places the acetate is typically the person responsible for removing that acetate.

When manipulating cages, extra care must be taken to ensure acetates are returned should any fall off.

Acetate Meaning Specifics Who Places
the Acetate?
Who Removes
the Acetate?
Health concern or abnormality noted and veterinary personnel notified Veterinary personnel
have been contacted
ULAM husbandry personnel ULAM veterinary personnel
Veterinary personnel have examined animal and short-term follow-up is needed Veterinary personnel
are working to determine
a management plan
for the animal
ULAM veterinary personnel ULAM veterinary personnel
Overcrowded cage conditions requiring attention by the
next business day
ULAM places the acetate
and will separate the next business day, unless already done so by the lab
ULAM husbandry personnel ULAM husbandry personnel or lab personnel ONLY if cage
is appropriately separated
ULAM marks single housed animal that does not have cage label identifying justification
for single housing
A date and single housing exemption code must be recorded on a blue tab associated with the cage ULAM husbandry personnel ULAM husbandry personnel or lab personnel ONLY if cage
is properly labeled
Deviation from ULAM Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) May or may not correspond
to a Special Treatment or Procedure (SToP) Form
Lab personnel or ULAM husbandry or veterinary personnel Lab personnel may remove ONLY ones lab has placed. ULAM removes ONLY ones ULAM has placed
Veterinary personnel place
these acetates when they are providing monitoring or treatment of a health condition
Veterinary personnel must assess animals minimally every 14 days ULAM veterinary personnel ULAM veterinary personnel
Condition observed, noted,
and no monitoring or
treatment is needed
Common conditions are kinked/curly tail or animals with red skin phenotype ULAM husbandry or
veterinary personnel
ULAM husbandry or
veterinary personnel


  • Contact the ULAM Training Core at or (734) 763-8039 if you would like additional training on the use of acetates in animal care rooms.
  • Additional questions about the use of acetates in your specific animal care room should be directed to your facility's ULAM Husbandry Supervisoryellow lock icon


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