Tattoo in the ear of a cat

Why Do Some Cats Have A Tattoo in Their Ear?

  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Last Updated on

A black or green tattoo on the inner portion of a cat’s ear is to show that the cat has been desexed (spayed or neutered). The veterinarian adds the tattoo during spay/neuter surgery.

Do all veterinarians and rescue centres tattoo cat ears?

Not all cats who have been desexed will have a tattoo, only one out of my four has an ear tattoo.

Ear notches

Notch in feral cat's earTrap, neuter & return (TNR) feral cats may have a notch out of their ear instead of a tattoo. Due to their fear of humans, the ear notch makes it easy to determine if the cat has been desexed from a distance.

You can see in the photo the tip of the cat’s ear has been removed, some veterinarians will remove a portion of the ear from the side instead of the tip. This procedure is carried out during the spay/neuter operation. While tattoos work for tame cats, they can be hard to see from a distance on feral cats. Which makes the notch a more reliable option.

Can pet owners tattoo cats?

Laws can vary from country to country and region to region, but most places would consider tattooing or piercing animal abuse. While adults can make an informed choice, cat’s can’t and pet owners run the risk prosecution for tattooing a cat. The ear tattoo serves a useful purpose and is performed on the cat under anesthesia, cosmetic tattoos serve no useful purpose.

How to determine if a cat has been spayed or neutered

Entire vs neutered maleNot all cats have an ear tattoo or notch to easily identify a desexed cat. When a male cat is neutered (orchidectomy), an incision is made in the scrotal sac and the testicles are removed, leaving the sac intact. This makes it easy to identify a neutered male. The only exception is if the male is cryptorchid, which means one or both of the testicles hasn’t descended into the scrotum, which can give the appearance of a neuter.

Other identifying clues include the presence of barbs on the penis of males who were neutered before six months and stud jowls on entire adult males.

Stud jowls on an entire male cat
Stud jowls on an entire male cat

It can be more difficult to determine if a female cat has been spayed which necessitates shaving the fur to look for a spay scar. Females may be spayed midline or flank, so if a scar cannot be found midline, then a second patch of fur will be shaved. The absence of estrus (heat) is another good clue that the female has been desexed. Entire cats will have repeat heat cycles until or unless she mates. During estrus, the female will roll on the ground, or if touched along the back close to the tail, will assume a mating position with the front part of her body low, and the rear half raised.