Is it Normal for Pets to Receive Tattoos During Spays and Neuters?

 |  Jul 31st 2010  |   8 Contributions


Let's round out the Vet Blog's unofficial (and accidental) spay- and neuter-themed month of July, 2010 with one final question and answer. This question hails from Kara in the comments section of my most recent post on neuters.

my cat recently visited a spay clinic and they tattooed her tummy with a NS (their initials) so if they got as far as shaving they would see it, and her ear with a S for spay.

they acted like this is completely normal and everyone does it.not true?

Attempting to spay an animal for the second time is every vet's nightmare. The vet opens the abdomen and commences a search for the uterus and ovaries. After a period of frustration, the abdomen is opened further . . . and further . . . until, in frustration, the vet declares that no ovaries or uterus are present. The vet has wasted a tremendous amount of time and is left with a lingering feeling of self doubt: what if the organs actually were in the abdomen, but simply couldn't be found?

More important, let us not forget that undergoing a second spay decisively is not in any pet's best interest. Going through a needless, painful major surgery is a bad deal for anyone.

Some vets have therefore adopted tactics to prevent accidental second spays and neuters. Two common tactics exist: tattoos at the spay or neuter site, and removal of an ear tip. We'll talk about the second one first.

Ear tip removal got its start with feral cats. Since feral cats must be trapped and anesthetized to be handled, the ears of feral cats often are notched or cut to mark them as sterile after spays or neuters. If sterilized cats are caught a second time, they can be immediately recognized and released without further stress.

Some vets, for reasons that I cannot fathom, now notch or remove the ear tips of all cats that they spay or neuter. In my opinion it is close to impossible to justify such a measure for a cat who is tame and tractable; there are much better ways to prevent second spays in owned animals (see below).

Tattooing an ear or the abdomen of a spayed or neutered animal is another way to prevent second, unnecessary sterilization procedures. In my opinion this method is more defensible than ear tipping or notching. However, I do not think it's appropriate for a veterinarian to tattoo (or mutilate the ear of) any animal without first discussing the matter with the owner.

The best way to prevent second spays and neuters is to prevent pets from becoming lost. Nobody who owns a pet would try to have their animal sterilized a second time. Most second surgeries occur in feral cats or in stray pets that are entering new homes.

Pets that are microchipped can be returned to their owners before a superfluous surgery occurs. I therefore recommend microchipping your pet (and registering the microchip!) as superior to tattoos and ear mutilation.

Photo: leave that ear alone!

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