Tattoo Cat Identification

I had no idea. I was reading a news story – a nice news story – of a German ginger cat who went walkabout 15 years ago and was found by 19 year old Kilian Schoettel. The cat had an identification tattoo on his ear. This allowed his owner to be identified by the local Munich animal sanctuary. The details from the faded tattoo matched an entry in the sanctuary’s records of missing animals. A result!

As an aside, the cat’s name is “Poldi”. Apparently he ran away from home because he couldn’t get on with another cat. There might be a story in that as well. I am thinking of my mother’s ginger cat that disappeared under similar circumstances. Are ginger cats more prone to run away and live in the wild? This could be the case because ginger (yellow or red) cats are, it is said, predisposed to being alpha, leader types and therefore more able to survive on their own and are perhaps less accepting of others and more independent.

This begs the question, “how common is cat identification by tattoo?” Microchipping is perhaps the most common method. It is argued that not enough people have microchipped their cat companion. If more people did identify their cats more lost cats could be reunited with their human caretakers and there would be less unregulated breeding going on. This would reduce the number of feral cats. That is the theory anyway.

It appears that tattooing was used for cat identification before microchipping became the new method in Germany. I wonder whether it is a better method?

The downside of tattooing a cat’s ear is (a) you can see it so appearance is a problem (b) the tattoo may become faint over time as the cat grows etc. (c) it can be altered – perhaps. But who would bother, really, and you could probably tell anyway and (d) it is not commonplace so people won’t know what it is.

The plus points of tattooing a cat for identification are (a) it is easy to do although it might mean an anaesthetic. That increases cost and can injure the cat (general anesthetic) (b) no side effect of cancer. Microchipping can, rarely, cause cancer (c) does not move. Microchips can move.

Microchipping is more modern and does not require an anaesthetic. It is cheap and easy. And of course it is invisible so does not disfigure the cat. Microchips are very durable and have a long life and don’t fade like tattoos. However, I wonder if someone could or has devised a way of “reprogramming” a microchip to change the information on it. It sounds feasible. They are also not without hazard as there are stories of cancer being caused by them. They are after all a foreign body stuck inside the cat. Living creatures don’t like sort of thing.

Collars with an ID tag are the old fashioned way to identify a cat but these can be hazardous too. There are stories of cats being strangled or injured by collars that are not the easy release type.

Identifying your cat is sensible. That said, I have not done it for Charlie. I wonder why? Probably because the chance of him getting lost or stolen are next to zero. Also he is neutered so he can’t procreate! However, the reasons for microchipping or identifying are wide ranging.

I just like the idea of the tattoo for some reason as it is very practical but purists won’t like it as it can spoil appearances.

Read Poldi’s story on the BBC website.

Update: here is picture taken by Maggie (see comment below) of Chilli with his ear tattoo:

Photo: Maggie.

Maggie says this about the tattoo:

It’s not specifically an identification tattoo, but it means the cat has been desexed and microchipped, and is therefore owned by someone. So if Chilli ran away, and someone found him, they would see the tattoo, and know that he’s desexed and has a microchip with his owner’s details on it.”

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Tattoo Cat Identification

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Apr 06, 2012UK NEW
by: Michael

Hi Maggie, thanks for the comment. Great picture which I have added to the page as I can publish it larger there.

I don’t think there are any identification tattoos on cats in the UK. There may be some but it is not discussed by vets as far as I know and I have never seen one on a cat.

Is Chilli’s tattoo and ID tattoo or one that says he is desexed?

If it is an ID tattoo how does work as I don’t see numbers etc.

Apr 06, 2012Like it NEW
by: Michael

Excellent comment, Jerrie. You have expressed what I felt was the case.

I think tattooing is more practical, simple and efficient as a means of identifying a cat or dog.

I think it should be used a lot more.

Having the ID on the outside (as opposed to inside the cat for microchips) is better too as you can tell right away using eyesight and not a sophisticated machine if the cat is identified.

Apr 05, 2012I’m with you about tattos NEW
by: Jerrie Wolfe

Micheal, I have been a dog breeder for about 50 years now and have always identified my dogs with tattoos long before microchips were invented. Tattoos have long been used to ID many animals species, rabbits, sheep, cattle, horses, etc. Most of these are done with a “tattoo pliers” that have a set of pins in the shape of numbers and letters. The drawback of “tattoo pliers” is the tattoo has to be placed in a spot where the pliers can be placed; ears, inside the lips, the flap of skin where the back leg connects to the body, etc.

With a “tattoo gun” the tattoo can be placed just about anywhere there is sparse hair. My dogs are tattooed on the inside of the rear legs, with their registration number and my drivers license number (AKC# 123654789 CDL# 123456789).

In Denmark, the Kennel Club sends a representative to your home and tattoos or microchips each puppy before their registration is processed.

These tattoos do not disfigure an animal and most are not readily visible until you start to examine the animal closely. I have had dogs I bred and tattooed returned to their owners via these tattoos. The people who found the dogs noticed them when they went to pet the dogs and they rolled over on their backs to have their tummies petted. They then called the Kennel Club, ave them the dogs number and the KC called me or their owners.

Dogs are much easier to tattoo than cats, but most dogs will just lay on their backs and allow the tattoo to be done.

I have never seen any adverse effects of a tattoo, but I am sure there may be individuals who could be allergic to the inks used.

I am still not convinced on the safety of microchips, especially in cats, as we are already aware of vaccination site sarcomas, just think of the reaction that could happen with an implanted microchip. I personally know of 5 dogs that had to have their microchips removed because of non-malignant cancerous growth around the microchip. I am sure cats would be more sensitive. Though I see more microchipped animals than the average person because of my job, I am sure there are many more that have not been reported because it is considered a coincidence. Then there is still the chance of the microchip migrating, even with the new and improved ones, plus microchips have not been standardized and not all chip-readers can detect all chips.

Just a few of my views……


Apr 05, 2012Tattooed Cats! NEW
by: Maggie

Most animals in Australia have tattoos put in their ears when they’re desexed. Some are temporary, some are permanent. Chilli and Mae both have permanent tattoos, and my dog, Mr Fox, has a permanent tattoo. But my other dogs, Rupert and Tessie, only had temporary tattoos, which are now gone.

I think it’s a good form of identification, because it’s so obvious. If someone finds a cat that’s microchipped, and not tattooed, there’s no guarantee that they’re going to check the cat for a microchip. They could easily just assume the cat is homeless! But a tattoo is obvious, and upon seeing the tattoo, the finder of the cat would realise that the cat is not homeless, because to have the tattoo put in there, the cat had to be owned by someone!

I’ll take some photos of Chilli and Mae’s tattoos tomorrow, Michael, and email them to you if you like. Because I’m not sure how many cats you see in the UK with tattoos?

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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5 Responses

  1. In the U.S., tattooing is one of the means of identifying ownership and/or microchip information. I have not been in favor of this method of identification, as tattoos can deteriorate somewhat, due to growth or shrinkage of the skin, and the microchip is an all-in-one solution. One precaution: as the chip sometimes may travel from the original destination, it’s a good idea to ask your veterinarian to scan for it during the cat’s routine checkup. All of my eight cats are micro-chipped, which gives me a certain peace of mind, even though they are indoor-only cats.

  2. Viki Schofield says:

    I’m in the UK and my rescue cat has numbers tattooed on the inside of her left ear. Obviously we have no history for her but I’d love to know the story behind it. All kinds of theories have been suggested – it’s from a breeder (vets thinks she’s a Burmese cross), she was marked as a stray, or even that she was used in some kind of lab test! It’s a permanent tattoo and was there before she was neutered.

    • Michael Broad says:

      Hi Viki, as stated in article, the tattoo should be an alternative way of identifying the cat’s owner just like a microchip does. I take it that your vet can’t help. But I would hope they can help you register the tattoo identification number with you as the cat’s owner so the previous owner is removed from any record (if there is a record still in existence).

      I can’t find a UK register or business doing tattoo IDs. This method appears to have gone out of fashion. Try doing some research on businesses who provided tattoo IDs in the UK – you have probably tried this already. Try contacting the rescue center where you adopted your cat. You have probably tried this too!

      Thanks for visiting and commenting.

  3. Amber-lea Valle says:

    hi, we have a cat at our property that has an ear tattoo. Just wanting to know if this can be done in new zealand or is it something that has happened to her in another country? Thank you

    • Michael says:

      I am not sure but as it is done in Australia it seems plausible that it happens in New Zealand too. Also when importing a cat from abroad it has to be identified..

      Before you leave the UK a vet will need to implant a microchip into your pet (or arrange for a permanent tattoo) for identification purposes…Global

      This cat has possibly been imported from Australia or some other country where ear tattooing is used to identify cats.

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