‘Ear tipping’ is a term used to describe the removal under anaesthesia of a small part of the tip of one ear of a feral cat, to mark a feral cat as neutered when viewed from a distance.
Ear tipping has major advantages over other methods:
- The cat doesn’t need to be caught, handled or sedated to read the mark
- It can be seen at night, or in shadow or silhouette, without disturbing the cat
- It doesn’t fade or degrade
- If done correctly as described below, it is a clearly man-made mark which won’t be mistaken for fight wounds
- It will not be accidentally caught, ripped etc, if the cat scratches it
- It will not act as an irritant/injury risk, which studs, tags or some tattoos may
- It can be used as a “trademark” to signpost that this is a “sorted” colony
- It allows identification of neutered cats before they get trapped, meaning that manual and drop traps can be used to clear colonies more quickly (in the photo above, the trapper can clearly see that he doesn’t need to catch the white cat)
- The percentage neuter status of a colony can be quickly assessed from a distance
- Cats do not have to undergo the assault of re-anaesthesia or surgery – as will frequently happen when other methods are used
- The left ear is traditionally used. It is advantageous to keep the method consistent to make the mark easily identified. There is no real advantage in tipping right-for-male and left-for-female, as happens sometimes.
- The ear should be cleaned internally and the tip-site prepped quickly with a skin disinfectant or surgical spirit.
- The cut should be made approximately 3mm from the point in a kitten, increasing through to 1cm in a large adult tom cat.
Either a haemostat is applied, and a straight line cut against it with a blade or scissor (use the same instruments from the surgical procedure).
Or where anaesthesia agents cause a significant drop in blood pressure, the haemostat isn’t needed, and a scissor cut with straight sterile scissors is used.
- The method must be consistent among all TNR groups in a district
- The tipping should not take place until the cat is definitely neutered or the surgeon satisfied it has been neutered previously (there is nothing worse than ear-tipping and releasing a cat which then goes on to have kittens because the surgeon assumed neuter status but didn’t check thoroughly)
- A straight line must be used
- Cautery is not needed and may damage the straight line if used
- Cats should be scanned for a microchip before neutering or tipping
- Though intended for feral, unsocialised cats, the method may sometimes be used for handleable long term stray cats
- It must always be performed under anaesthesia
- Retrospective tipping is advantageous if a neutered cat is repeatedly being trapped and its neuter status isn’t clear
Ear tipping should not be regarded in the same way as ear-cropping. It is not a mutilation, but a protective measure designed to prevent cats from being caught or operated on again unnecessarily.
Enlightened legislation recognises this – indeed the European Convention for the Protection of Pet Animals (ETS 125, Strasbourg 13.XI.1987) permits it. But poor drafting or enforcement of domestic legislation by authorities who are trying to implement this Convention, sometimes may cause problems. IFCW is happy to advise further if you are encountering this situation.
Charities and NGOs
If you are reading this as a donor or supporter of an animal charity or NGO, it is your responsibility to ensure that any cat charity you support is protecting the feral cats it works with, by using this worldwide industry-standard technique.