2018-03-21 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

What does it mean when a cat is ear-tipped? Ear-tipping is the universal sign of an altered feral cat. One quarter inch is removed from the tip of the left ear in a straight line cut at a 45-degree angle.

Ear-tips are readily visible from a distance, making it easy for caretakers, trappers and animal control workers to identify that a cat as spayed or neutered and vaccinated against rabies. The procedure, performed under sterile conditions while the cat is anesthetized for spay/neuter, is relatively painless, involves little to no bleeding and does not significantly alter the cat’s appearance. No other means of identification has proven as safe or effective.

Ear-tipping is part of the TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) protocol which involves humanely trapping community (aka “feral”) cats, vaccinating them, getting them spayed or neutered and then returning them to their neighborhoods or colonies to live out their lives, as long as there is a caretaker to feed them and monitor the cats. TNR is the best and the most humane way to reduce the population of outdoor, ownerless cats.


Cat with a left ear-tip Cat with a left ear-tip Cats can reproduce at an incredibly high rate. A cat can have up to five litters a year. They can have six or more kittens each time. That’s approximately 30 kittens or more a year from one mature female cat.

That explains why the TNR can really help put the feral cat population under control. However, how can we tell which cats have been taken in for fixing from far away? That’s why ear-tips are so important.

Ear-tipping in cats is not the same as ear-cropping done with certain dog breeds (such as Dobermans or Great Danes) for cosmetic reasons. Ear-tips on feral felines are a means of quick identification.

Initially there was enormous opposition to ear-tipping because it somehow fell under the same category as cat declawing, dog ear-cropping or tail docking. The alternative methods at the time were ear tags, ear tattoos, collars or photo records of the cats. Over time rescuers realized ear tags tend to fall off or get snagged on sticks or brambles. Sometimes they even ripped open the ears.

Tattoos are too hard to read. Rescuers or animal control would have to re-capture the cat in order to see the tattoo. Most cats that have naively entered a humane trap once (and been sterilized) will avoid traps in the future. It’s as if caretakers get “one chance in a lifetime” to trap each feral cat in their colony.

Collars did not work well with feral cats. There were many incidents where cats got choked by the collars. Other methods also failed. Ear-notching (where the vet cuts a V into the ear) was attempted but the V resembles the torn ear of a tom cat after a fight with another cat, making this designation too ambiguous. Photos weren’t reliable especially if the cats in the colony are related and look similar. Therefore, “ear-tipping has been used around the world on thousands of feral cats for four decades,” said Alley Cat Rescue, a TNR advocacy group.

In addition, ear-tipping can also help anyone who is feeding the cats keep track of them, and notice if a new cat has joined the gang. If a new cat without an ear-tip shows up for meals at the colony, this either means a new, unaltered feral has been accepted by the regulars, or a tame (and most likely pet) cat was either dumped there or is lost and found its way to a feeding site. Ear-tips let animal control officers know that a cat benefitted from TNR and has been seen by a veterinarian.

Is an ear-tip a deterrent to adopters? At Last Hope in Wantagh we often have cats pulled out of our TNR clinics that appear to be friendly or have the potential to become tame and adoptable. If the caretaker trapped a newcomer who seems friendly or a litter of young kittens are among the “patients,” we will mark these cats with the designation “NO Ear-Tip” because they will be pulled for our adoption program rather than being put back at their trapping site.

If the tameness of the cat becomes apparent after recovery from surgery, the cat will already be ear-tipped which, of course, is irreversible. Some people feel the ear-tip makes it harder for the cat to be adopted because the beauty is marred. Actually, I don’t see that happening at Last Hope with ear-tipped cats or kittens. People tend to see beyond the ear-tip and are more interested in the cat’s personality and inner beauty.

Others see the ear-tip as a badge of honor. There’s a poster of an ear-tipped cat that reads: “If you see me in an outside home sporting an ear-tip, it means someone cared enough about me to get me vetted and that person is making sure I have the best possible life in my outdoor home. If I am in an adoption program, it means someone took the time to work with me after rescuing me. That person showed me love and taught me to trust and gave me the confidence to love back.”

**ALMOST HOME Chinese Auction: Sat., March 24 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Drawing at 3 p.m. (you need not be there then), held at Christ Lutheran Church’s Great Hall, 189 Burr Rd, East Northport. $5 admission; over 200 prizes of gift certificates and baskets.

**For Adoption at Babylon Shelter (631-643- 9270) Lamar St. W. Babylon: “Hercules” 8-5 is a Lab/Husky about three who needs lots of exercise. He loves to play fetch. “Clarise” 8-64 is a sweet tabbico who will turn seven next month.

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