Why Do Some Cats Have a Tattoo in Their Ear?

Cat with a Ear Tattoo

Does your kitty have an ear tattoo? Or perhaps her ear looks like the tip has been cut off, or a notch has been cut from it. Have you wondered why your cat’s ears look this way? There is a simple explanation for these unique ears, and we will discuss what that explanation is here.

What Does the Ear Tattoo Mean?

Usually you will only see an ear tattoo, or a notch or tip, on a female cat. What does this indicate? Simply put, it means that kitty has been spayed. Spaying is a process by which a veterinarian cuts an incision in the female cat’s abdomen and removes her reproductive organs, then closes that incision with stitches or glue. In the past, if a veterinarian wanted to find out if an adult female cat had been spayed, they would have to open the cat back up to check (as the scar from spaying fades over time). Now, however, when a cat is spayed, she will either receive an ear tattoo, a notch cut from her ear, or the tip taken off her ear. This is a way for humans to easily indicate that the cat has been spayed.

Why Are Only Females Tattooed – Why Not Male Cats?

It is much easier to tell if a male cat has been neutered than if a female cat has been spayed. The male cat’s reproductive equipment is on the outside and it’s easily noticeable if it has been removed (in a procedure known as an orchiectomy, removal of the testicles). The female, however, carries her reproductive organs inside, so spaying is not immediately evident (as the abdominal scar from the spaying procedure will fade over time). Neutering and spaying cats, especially stray, feral or homeless cats, is the best way to control overpopulation within cat colonies, and is highly recommended for the health and well-being of all cats.

Tattoo, Tip or Notch – What’s the Difference?

Many cats who are rescued by stray organizations and are spayed will have their ears notched or the tip or the ear will be cut off. Once the cat is released back into the wild, this is an easy way for humans to tell that the cat has been spayed just by looking at her. The cat doesn’t have to be closely examined to see the notch or tip cut off the ear. The veterinarian will notch or tip the ear while the cat is still sedated from the spaying procedure. If a cat’s ear is notched or tipped, the veterinarian won’t tattoo it, as that would be overkill and unnecessary.

Other veterinarians, however, don’t like the idea of “disfiguring” a cat’s ears by cutting off healthy ear tissue. They prefer to tattoo the cat’s ear to indicate that the kitty has been spayed. Of course, in order to see such a tattoo, a human must get close enough to a cat, and must often sedate and shave the cat to be able to visualize the tattoo.  So tattooed cats are generally ones who have never been stray, homeless, or in the wild.

Cat getting a ear tattoo

How Do Vets Tattoo Cats?

Tattooing a cat is not a difficult process. It is usually done while the cat is under sedation from the spaying procedure. The vet will typically use black, blue or green ink, something that can easily be seen on the cat’s skin. They will either use a tattoo gun or a needle and syringe to tattoo the cat’s ear. Some veterinarians no longer tattoo ears, as this is not always seen easily, but rather, will place a small tattoo on the cat’s abdomen, near the site of the spaying surgery. This abdominal tattoo is sometimes more evident to humans who later look at the cat to see if she’s been spayed.

Can I Tattoo My Own Kitty?

Most countries have laws against tattooing your own cat. It is considered to be animal abuse when an owner performs the tattooing. If you want your cat to be tattooed to indicate that she has been spayed, ask your veterinarian to do it under sedation. Cosmetic tattoos on cats serve no purpose and can be harmful.

A new and dangerous trend has emerged among owners of hairless cats. Some owners get their hairless cats tattooed for cosmetic reasons. There are actually some unscrupulous tattoo shop operators who will tattoo these poor kitties. Tattooing a cat in this way is done under anesthesia, but can take over three hours and is highly traumatizing for a cat. The first cat reported to be tattooed was a Sphynx in Russia, who was given four tattoos by its owner, a body/tattoo artist. Even some hairless dogs, like chihuahuas, are being tattooed. Tattooing animals in such as way is considered cruelty and should be prosecuted.

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