Fixing Ferals: To Ear Tip, Or Not To Ear Tip?

20 May 2015
 Categories: , Blog


If you're interested in getting the feral cats in your neighborhood spayed and neutered, that's a great idea. However, many responsible animal guardians find themselves at a crossroads when their veterinarian asks about ear tipping. Some people don't know what it means, and others object to it. If you're unsure what ear tipping is or just want to know whether you should allow this procedure to be performed on a feral cat, this guide can help.

The Meaning of Ear Tipping

Ear tipping is a term that describes either making a small cut (like a notch) in a cat's ear, or clipping off the top quarter-inch of the ear. This procedure is generally only performed on the left ear. 

Why Ear Tipping Is Performed

Ear tipping is a visual signal to animal control workers, savvy pet owners, and other people who are committed to the trap, neuter, and release process that a cat has already been fixed. While it's sometimes possible to determine if a male cat has been neutered just by looking, it's nearly impossible to tell with female cats.

People who don't want cats breeding in their neighborhoods and have done their research know that this is a signal that a cat has already been taken care of. It's not going to get into territorial fights with other cats and pets, it's less likely to spray to mark its territory, and it won't be producing unwanted litters of kittens.

This simple procedure can prevent other people from trapping the cat, intending to get it fixed, and traumatizing the poor creature for no reason.

Safety And Pain Concerns

It's reasonable to be concerned that clipping a cat's ear could cause pain or trauma. However, this procedure is performed while the cat is still completely unconscious from general anesthesia, so they won't feel the procedure happening. Any pain after they regain consciousness will probably be minor, especially if your vet gives you pain killers to provide to the cat while it heals. In addition, ear tipping has no effect on a cat's hearing.

Alternatives To Ear Tipping

There are really only two alternatives to not tipping a cat's ears: tattoos, or doing nothing at all.

Believe it or not, some veterinarian and cat fixing clinics will actually put a small ink marker on a cat's abdomen to indicate that they've been fixed. However, this choice has its drawbacks. After all, the cat's fur will grow back after the procedure is completed, rendering the tattoo useless to anyone but a veterinarian.

Otherwise, you can opt to simply not have the cat marked at all. This is fine if the cat is going to become your pet, but keep in mind that if it returns to the streets as a feral, it may be unnecessarily picked up again by another animal guardian who is just trying to do the right thing.

Ear tipping may seem a little odd at first glance, but it's a useful tool for feral cats and people who want to help them. Thankfully, it doesn't harm the cat and can do a whole lot of good, so don't be afraid of this procedure. For more information, contact Chester Valley Veterinary Hospital or a similar location.