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Is Tattooing Cats Animal Abuse?

Sherry grew up watching her uncle raise turtles, fish, goats and sheep in his backyard.

Why Are Animals Tattooed?

Tattooing has existed throughout the ancient world. After some years of animal domestication, humans decided to get their animals some tattoos as well.

Instances where animals are tattoed:

  • In laboratories to tattoo experimental animals.
  • In the agricultural industry to identify livestock
  • By pet breeders and 4-H clubs to mark purebred animals
  • By vets and animal rescue groups to denote that a rescued animal has been spayed
  • By pet owners to identify lost or stolen pets
  • For lighter-colour animals to prevent sunburn, for example on the nose.

But is it the same to tattoo a cat for decorative purposes? Does getting your pet cat a tattoo fall under the category of animal cruelty?

"Only heaven knows exactly when the first man, or half-man, first added some natural ornament to his body or a woman to hers. Not long after, I feel sure, the first primitive attempt was made at putting permanent decoration, or magic sign, on the skin. If so, it would be a proud claim for tattooing that it was one of man's first conscious acts which distinguished him from the rest of the animal kingdom." George Burchett, Memoirs of a Tattooist (1958, 14-15)

Little did he expect future humans to ruin the supposedly "first conscious act that distinguished human from animals".

Tattooing for Identification vs Decoration

Vets and animal organizations do not recommend tattooing a pet, even for identification, let alone for aesthetic reasons. However, being able to identify the animals is important and often a legal requirement for many species of animals.

Compared with other methods of ID, tattooing is associated with numerous disadvantages and is, in fact, more painful than microchipping. But, it is the most practical, cost-effective and rapid method which is why still used in places where it is necessary.

It is used as a means of marking by vets at the time of spay or neuter surgery to identify pets as neutered. This seems reasonable because the pet is already under anaesthesia and a tattoo may prevent it from undergoing unnecessary exploratory surgery.

Generally, simple tattoo techniques that do not require special needles or instruments are used for this purpose.

A small line or symbol is created on the ventral abdomen. A tattoo in this area would be easily discovered and could verify that surgical sterilization had been performed.

Laboratories tattoo ears of animals by applying local anaesthetic creams which unlike general anaesthesia have the least risk.

Reportedly, Russian cat owners  started this trend to tattoo hairless breeds like the Sphynx cat.

Reportedly, Russian cat owners started this trend to tattoo hairless breeds like the Sphynx cat.

Anaesthesia and Risk of Infections

"The cat is put under anaesthesia. What is the big deal? It's not like it will feel pain."

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This is what you will hear from people who believe that tattooing is nothing cruel.
Tattooing requires heavy sedation or general anaesthesia, which is never "nothing".

There is always a risk when you are knocking out someone for three hours straight. All sorts of cardiovascular, respiratory, and other complications can occur when general anaesthesia is done on small animals.

This is why owners are asked to give consent for inducing anaesthesia to their pets. The pain caused to the animal after waking up is yet another thing.

Moreover, the use of multiple needles, adds to the risk of transmission of bloodborne viruses or other infections.

Tattoo inks contain pigment particles that remain permanently in the skin to make up the desired colouring. Over time, the pigments partly escape via the lymph and become deposited in the lymph nodes along with a slow release of minute amounts of chemicals that may cause harm, such as allergy.

Additionally, the pigments from lymph can reach the bloodstream and cause harm somewhere else in the body.

It's like getting a tattoo on a human baby. The purpose is not medical, a cat cannot consent, and it is risky.

Although cats are smart animals, they are never so smart to know how they look.

It is understandable that people might be doing it out of admiration, but there are many ways you can give your cat a lavish lifestyle. Pets should be loved for their personality and not looks.

Tattoo sleeve for cat.

Tattoo sleeve for cat.

Before you decide to get your cat tattooed, think about this:

  • How will the sensitive skin of a hairless cat react to tattoo ink?
  • How will the cat relief from the snatch and burn of the tattoo healing?
  • What if any complications occur? Can you afford to deal with the aftermath?
  • What would you do when the tattoo starts fading and distorting over time?

After answering the above questions, if you feel that it is safe to get a tattoo on your cat, do it only if you have had the first-hand experience of watching a tattooed pet for some years.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2020 Sherry Haynes


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on July 12, 2020:

Sherry, I do not own a cat. So I would not understand what tatooing a cat means. Nevertheless, thanks for sharing.

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