General Question

Snoopy's avatar

Ear notching in feral or stray cats?

Asked by Snoopy (5793points) December 17th, 2008

Have you heard of this?

Apparently vets will cut the tip of the left ear off of a female feral or stray cat to indicate it has been spayed (to spare it from an unnecessary further surgeries).

Is there a comparable system for dogs?

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42 Answers

tinyfaery's avatar

Fortunately, there are not a lot of wild dog packs running around. People don’t really spay/neuter and release dogs.

amanderveen's avatar

That’s an interesting policy, although I’d never heard of it. Whereabouts is this supposedly going on?

Snoopy's avatar

@tf Do they actually spay/neuter and release cats?

The instance that I became familiar w/ today….a woman took in a stray. She took the cat to the vet to have it spayed and keep as a pet. The cat had already been spayed. The vet cut the tip of the cat’s ear off of the woman’s cat. The vet explained that this was to prevent the cat from undergoing the same procedure again should it run away, etc.

She is quite upset. I had never heard of this practice.

Snoopy's avatar

@amanderveen This happened in the midwest. I googled and found random off hand references to the practice on vet clinic sites around the country…..

gailcalled's avatar

Milo displays his (tiny) ear notch with great pride. It’s a cat tat and about this size; V

No vets cut off parts of ears unless there is cancer.

Snoopy's avatar

@gailcalled. I saw the cat. The extreme tip of its ear was cut off. It was not really noticeable until she pointed it out to me….it was definitely not a “v” or a notch.

Perhaps the “signal” is regional or based on where the vet was trained…?

gailcalled's avatar

That is news to me, but as you know, I am the newcomer here in terms of Veterinary practices. How large was the piece that was snipped off? I gather that there was a major portion of the ear still attached to the cat, from your description?

Snoopy's avatar

Oh, yes…very minor. Hardly noticeable unless you were looking for it….once she pointed it out, I could see what she was talking about…

Some of the pics that came up on the google search however….most of the cats’ left ears were gone! Yikes. That seems a bit excessive…..

Snoopy's avatar

As an aside….OK…I just get a kick out of the Amazon search box. A link for a Stray Cats CD is there….LOL

Snoopy's avatar

@gailcalled Just found this link

Apparently either notching or tip removal can be done.

Downside to notching: Less noticeable and might be mistaken for an old fight wound

Downside to tipping: More noticeable, less pleasing visually

Still wondering…..Is this done for dogs?

amanderveen's avatar

Interesting…. All three of my cats were strays I adopted, each was neutered in a different city (as I moved around over the years), and not one vet ever suggested the ear notching. All of my cats have been tattooed, though. My folks have adopted stray dogs from time-to-time as well, and they haven’t heard of a similar policy for dogs in our area, either.

tybalt's avatar

I have seen this practiced in Miami, Florida. My parents took in a stray with a notched ear – she has most certainly been spayed. It is a very simple low-tech method for tracking such things. Saves money and pain & suffering. I don’t know of it being practiced on domestic cats – the vet clearly should have checked with the owner before notching the ear of the cat mentioned above.

nls26's avatar

Yep, I have two kitties that have their ear tips clipped. We got them through a rescue operation that traps & saves stray/feral cats. Male cats too. I guess there are organizations out there that trap feral cats just for the purpose of spaying/neutering them, and controlling the apparently overwhelming population of feral cats?? First I’d heard about it too.

Darwin's avatar

Check out the website for Alley Cat Allies ( ). They are a national organization to promote TNR (Trap, Neuter, Release) programs for feral cats. They use the ear notch or ear clipping to indicate which cats have been neutered already. This is in large part because surgery is time-consuming, expensive and a health risk to the cats so there is no sense in putting any of them through more than one procedure.

It is next to impossible to completely rid our cities of feral cats by the old method of killing as many cats as you can. Once those cats are gone more feral cats will simply move in. It has been found that as long as some cats control a territory no new ones will come in. If the existing cats are infertile the population no longer grows and instead remains stable and healthier for both the cats and the people near whom the cats live.

We have a number of TNR colonies in our small and otherwise not terribly progressive city. I suspect there may be others near each of you who have responded to this question.

Snoopy's avatar

@Darwin Thank you for your response. Lurve for you! Very educational!
(@tf I stand corrected RE releasing of cats)

jessturtle23's avatar

After taking care of so many feral cats in my life I think that is a dumb way of showing it has been spayed. Many cats have tears in thier ears from fighting and if you can get near a cat you can tell if she has been spayed without re-spaying her, or whatever the point would be. One of my cats is missing half her ear where I accidentally cut it off. I am just saying that if I saw a cat missing part of it’s ear the last thing I am going to think it that it has been spayed. I know that it doesn’t hurt the cat really bad to cut their ear since my accident but this seems like it wasn’t thought out. A vet isn’t stupid enough to re-spay a cat, I hope.

gailcalled's avatar

The Vet’s notch is clearly not from a cat fight. It is too symmetrical and too tidy. Of course it may be removed as part of a mouthful. How on earth did you cut off your cat’s ear? In my household, MY ear would have been removed.

jessturtle23's avatar

It was one of the most awful things I have ever done to a pet. She has really long hair and got a sandspur in her cheek and I asked a friend to hold her while I took really sharp scissors to cut it out and she turned.When I did it I couldn’t even look at the ear on the floor, I just freaked.I rushed her to the vet and the vet laughed and said she saw it all the time and gave her ointment and some antibotics. If the people who I bought her from only knew. I had to sign a contract saying I wouldn’t let her outside. Ha!

Darwin's avatar

@jessturtle – These cats are often truly feral. Being caught and examined by a vet is extremely traumatic for them. As such, an external indicator of spayed status, especially for females, is extremely useful. Also, many of the cats who have this done are part of monitored TNR colonies so the only folks who will really be aware of the ear notch will be people who know what it means.

We aren’t talking simply strays here, but cats who are wild and who are generations removed from having lived as pets.

I am sorry for your cat’s accident but as you have probably figured out it doesn’t bother her in the least.

tinyfaery's avatar

I’m glad Darwin cleared that up.

jessturtle23's avatar

No, she had no idea it even happened. I guess I need to see a good picture.

girlofscience's avatar

[I work with feral colonies and do TNR.]

Ear cropping should be used with TNR, yes, to indicate which cats have already been spayed/neutered when trapping. (Additionally, it is essential that people continue provided food to a feral colony even after everyone has been trapped and spayed/neutered.)

It is NOT necessary, however, for cats that are being adopted! Snoopy, that vet misunderstood the woman’s situation. The vet probably assumed that the woman was some ignorant person who was just going to feed the cat occasionally, but also let her run around outside and be wild… I’m assuming this is not the case. Pet cats should never be allowed outside. There was no reason for the vet to do that to the woman’s cat. My oldest cat is a feral that I brought inside and domesticated. I had her spayed, and there was no ear cropping, as it was understood that she was fully a part of the indoor family.

syz's avatar

Snoopy, as far as your question regarding dogs, I have never heard of a dog catch and release program. I suspect that dogs would be considered a public risk and therefore are destroyed when caught.

Snoopy's avatar

@syz. Agreed. I presumed no catch and release for dogs…or (at least until Darwin’s post above) for cats too….

In the instance in which I first heard of this procedure it was for a woman’s new pet cat, which had been a stray.

Very confusing!

Thanks for the clarification/education jellies!

syz's avatar

Sorry, I am scatterbrained today….

The shelter does use a signal for female dogs that they adopt out (for males, it’s fairly obvious). During the OVH procedure, they will tattoo a small symbol on the midline, in the area of the incision (in this neck of the woods, it’s a small circle with a slash through it). It may not be apparent when the hair grows back, but a dog being prepped for surgery will have that area shaved, so preventing an unnecessary abdominal incision.

Snoopy's avatar

@syz Ah. Well I am glad that something is done….

Thanks for the info!

tiggersmom's avatar

I am a cat lover, and it is good that they are fixing and releasing them again, but, to cut off a part of their body, it is appauling to me to hear about this, kind of like taking a pinky off a human for an identity. Terrible to me.

Darwin's avatar

But they are already having part of their body cut off – their reproductive organs. A small piece out of the ear is not much to sacrifice to enable the cat to avoid being trapped again. And it is a small piece, not a huge chunk of ear.

syz's avatar

And certainly better than being re-trapped, re-anesthetized, and re-incised.

(And frankly, a lot less offensive to me than parents who pierce their infant’s ears.)

jessturtle23's avatar

@girl. Why should cats not be allowed outside?

Snoopy's avatar

@jess Hopefully GOS will answer too….but I would like to add that cats that go in/out and especially those that live outside have shorter life spans than their indoor counterparts for a variety of reasons….

Additionally, they irritate those animal loving dog owners among us (ahem) when they crap, pee and “mark” in our yards….

tiggersmom's avatar

@ Darwin and syz, I understand, but I still don’t like it, I guess I just wouldn’t want that to happen to my cats, whom are fixed by the way, because I let them outside and they are good cats, the people in the neighborhood do know that they are mine. I guess I just care a little too much, and too deeply. lol

Snoopy's avatar

@tiggersmom I appreciate what you are saying but the people who help these feral cats care about them deeply too.

Notching or cutting off the tip of the ear is to prevent unnecessary repeated trapping, transportation, shots, examination, anesthesia, surgery and general trauma to the animal. It also allows the people who are helping the animals to focus their time, money and resources on cats who actually need their help.

Basically it is an external signal to leave the animal alone.

syz's avatar

Outdoor cats not only incur greater risk and tend to have shorter lifespans, they also kill tremendous numbers of birds.

tiggersmom's avatar

@ Snoopy, GREAT TO HEAR FROM YOU, HAVE MISSED YOU HERE. Yes, agree with you, and I think I might not need to stand so strongly against it, since I care so much for their existence. I think it would be a great way to know that there is some control being done, but do you ever think that there will be a day, when things are reversed, because feral cats are nonexistant, and donestic cats are the only ones out there? Suppose not, huh? yeah.

dgalambos's avatar

I just heard of this a couple weeks ago for the first time and couldn’t believe it. There is a cat in our neighborhood who comes regularly to be fed. Suddenly most of her ear was missing. We assumed she had been in a fight, then a neighbor told us a vet had done it. At lease now I know the reason, but this is no little notch, but nearly her entire ear! Seems excessive. This is in Los Angeles.

Snoopy's avatar

@dgalambos. I saw pics like that when I was trying to find out more info….it does seem excessive.

spmoore8694's avatar

I work with an animal rescue agency in Mississippi. We have over 50 TNR colonies that I am aware of. There are 3 ways to TIP the ears:
1. Hole punch (middle area of the ear just like a paper hole punch).
2. Ear tip (there is modest and extreme versions of this) It depends on the vet & your request.
3. Ear notch (“V” shaped removal of tissue).

I prefer a moderate amount of the TIP to be taken off (adult cat around 0.5 to 0.75 of an inch). The V shape looks too much like a fight mark. I have never seen the PUNCH method but it seems that it might be hard to visualize without back lighting. Why moderate ear tip? Reason being I have recaught and knocked out an many cats because the ear tip was SO subtle that I could not tell it had been done.

I will remind you that TIPS are done on cats that are NOT friendly. Strays that are sweet and nice- I would never do that. But when you are talking 50 + cats and one brown tabby looks like another.

In terms of vets re-opening an abdomen: new closure methods can be so good that you cannot see a scar. And the reason boys also have tatoos on their tummies: if they are neutered when they are young, they look like a girl! Also there are some techniques to do a SIDE spay. They go in on the side of the cat. Very safe but no scar to be felt!

HSUS suggests that 10 oz is the smallest size a cat must be to be spayed or neutered if the testicles have dropped. Too many adoptors end up with accidental births so anything I adopt out (around 1000 a year) is already spayed or neuterd. Our new low-cost spay & neuter clinic will do at 3 lbs if it is has a human or just under 2 lbs if it has yet to be adopted. The smallest I have done is 20 oz but I generally do not adopt 10 oz kittens…too tiny for most homes.

There is substantial evidence (JAVMA vol 233 no 1 July 2008) too many old school vets are wanting to wait until they are 4–9 months old, but if a cat can begin reproduce starting at 4 months….WHY WAIT!

I look forward to a day when there are no more homeless animals. But right now my state (MS) euthanizes 73,000 homeless pets per year. Everyone in every state puts down too many…more than zero is too many!

Snoopy's avatar

@spmoore8694 Thank you for your very informative answer.

welcome to Fluther

J_A_Y's avatar

My cat Tidus jumped over the fence and has been missing for three days. He just came back not even an hour ago, he came running when I opened the front door. I was relieved to have him back, but then i noticed the top of his left ear was cut off. I was pissed at first cause I thought some one abused him. But because the cut seemed to be a straight cut, there was a powder on the wound and the wound itself was healed I decided to research it on the internet.

I found several articles including this one at: apparently this is done to feral cats to about a quarter of the left ear so they can be identified as being spayed and neutered from a distance, helpful since cats are hard to get close to. Vets apply a styptic powder to the would which I assume is what I found on his ear.

Satisfied that he was captured and released and not abused, the cut on his ear is not so bad compared of what I thought happened to him.

He was already neutered and declawed when he was young, so I can see how some one may think him a female. My cat is an expert of taking off the numerous collars that I have gotten him. Until today, I never new of this practice, and glad it is in place. Hopefully those in my neighborhood who capture and release cats won’t bother him again should he get out again as he can jump over the back fence at will and they can see his ear cut. It doesn’t surprise me either since there is a very bad cat population problem in my neighborhood.

Darwin's avatar

@J_A_Y – You might consider keeping him indoors more. It will extend his lifespan and keep him safe if the pound comes through looking to solve the feral cat problem their way. You might not get him back that time.

Rocky4's avatar

I just recently got my cats spayed and neutered and they all came back with half there right ears missing and I don’t know why they coldent just mark them or just a small cut or something they look like they only have one ear and a hole with fur coming out of it.

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