Why the Eartip on Outdoor Cats?

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If you’ve noticed an outdoor cat with a part of his ear missing – just the top of the left ear—that’s the sign of a cat who is healthy and cared for! An eartip is the universally recognized symbol of a cat who has been spayed or neutered and vaccinated. Eartipping is a standard part of most Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs, because it’s simply the best method to let everyone know at a glance that a cat has gone through a TNR program.

Because cats are eartipped while they’re under anesthesia for spay or neuter surgery,everything is safe, clean, and painless. The top 3/8 inch of the ear is removed. The ear heals quickly and no further attention is needed. You might be worried about the cat looking different, but the eartip doesn’t hurt her, and it could actually save her life.

Eartips are a critical safeguard for outdoor cats. Some outdoor cats prefer to keep their distance, but most eartips can be seen from even several feet away. Plus, no matter  who interacts with the cat (caregivers, vets, animal control), they can all tell that she has an outdoor home. That’s a big deal when it comes to animal control agencies and shelters—having an eartip could prevent an unsocialized outdoor cat from being admitted to a shelter where she would end up being killed.  An eartip also allows a caregiver who is setting traps to know this cat has already been neutered.

There are hundreds of TNR programs in the U.S. The protocol of some of these programs is tipping the cat’s right ear, as is sometimes done on the west coast.

You might have heard of other methods of identifying a neutered cat, but don’t be fooled, they’re not as good as an eartip:

  • Tattooing—you can’t see that until a cat has already been trapped. Tatoos are difficult to locate without anesthesizing the cat.
  • Eartags—they can cause infections, fall off, or tear a cat’s ear. Ouch!
  • Ear-notch—looks like a tear but is harder to identify because it could be mistaken for an injury from fighting.
  • Collars—they could get too tight as cats grow, get caught on something and injure the cat, or just fall off.
  • Microchipping—you’d need to have a microchip scanner to know if a cat was already microchipped. Many TNR programs include microchipping (when resources allow for them.) Alley Cat Allies endorses these “Tip & Chip” programs.

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