Tattoos Indicate Spay And Neuter

Tattoos.

It won’t be long before more people have them than don’t.

Today, though, we’re talking about dog and cat tattoos.

These tattoos are not for decoration, but for conveying information.

Discreet, painless tattoos are performed while the patient is still under anesthesia.

Discreet, painless tattoos are performed while the patient is still under anesthesia.

Veterinarians use small, straight-line tattoos when pets are spayed or neutered to let future caregivers know that this particular pet no longer has internal reproductive organs.

Suppose circumstances, economic, medical or catastrophic made it necessary that your pet go to live with someone else. You may or may not be able to convey to the new owner whether your pet had been surgically altered.

Suppose, now, that the new owner observes problems with the pet and his new veterinarian suspects that those problems may be related to the reproductive tract. Do you want your pet to have to undergo a surgical exploration of the abdomen for organs that aren’t there? A little tattoo, a couple of millimeters wide and a couple of centimeters long answers that question as soon as it is asked.

“But my pet will have a scar showing that she’s had surgery, won’t she?”

Maybe.

Maybe not.

Another example of a spay tattoo. Notice that the surgical incision barely left a scar.

Another example of a spay tattoo. Notice that the surgical incision barely left a scar.

Some surgical incisions heal so well that no evidence is left behind that entry was ever made.

Even if there is a scar, it only tells us that there was interruption of the skin there.

Is the scar from an injury?

Is the scar from a Caesarean section?

Is the scar from bladder surgery?

There are only three ways to know: surgical exploration (painful and invasive), hormone assays (expensive) and tattoo (free and performed after surgical alteration while the patient is still under general anesthesia). Which do you want for your pet?

While it might seem that it would be obvious in the case of male dogs and cats, a condition called cryptorchidism demonstrates the necessity of a tattoo for them, too.

Cryptorchidism occurs when testicles fail to enter the scrotum and instead are retained in the abdomen. If neither the left nor the right testicle leaves the abdomen a scrotum will never be formed and a veterinarian is left to wonder whether the pet was neutered very early in life or has testicles in the abdomen.

Retained testicles are predisposed to two types of cancer and a condition called torsion of the testicle. Torsion results in a painful, potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency surgery.

A male pet presented for abdominal pain, with no testicles in the scrotum and no surgical tattoo may undergo unnecessary abdominal surgery looking for a torsed or cancerous testicle that isn’t even there.

So, when your pet’s doctor recommends a small, discreet surgical tattoo with your pet’s alteration surgery, don’t hesitate to say yes.

See you tomorrow, Dr. Randolph.

22 Comments to “Tattoos Indicate Spay And Neuter”

  1. Nellewood 29 August 2016 at 11:38 pm #

    I found my cat on the side of a building in San Diego about three years ago. She was sick, and had a scar showing that she had been spayed in the past few months. I noticed that she had a pink heart tattoo a few inches away from her scar, but when I took her into the vet they didn’t know what it was, and they scanned her for a microchip but couldn’t find one. Someone else told me they got their cat from the Humane Society and it had a similar heart tattoo, but I could never find any information about it. Any thoughts?

    • Dr. James W. Randolph 15 September 2016 at 2:18 pm #

      Sorry, none. I Googled “pet heart tattoo,” but all I got was images of people with heart-shaped tattoos. It’s a new one on me. Thanks for reading MyPetsDoctor.com.

  2. Tonia 6 January 2016 at 12:48 pm #

    A friend of mine found a female dog that has been spayed. She does have a marking/tattoo where the incision had been made. Can we find out which doctor did the surgery by their markings? Please help me so I can help her to get back home to her family.
    Thank you,
    Tonia

    • Dr. James W. Randolph 7 January 2016 at 4:38 pm #

      Spay/neuter tattoos are simply straight lines. They are usually black or green. Around here, I know of only a couple of practices where green ink is used, so that makes identification pretty easy, but, beyond that, it’s a guessing game. If your city is not too large you could take the dog from clinic to clinic showing them the dog and tattoo and see if they recognize her or the tattoo. Any clinic can also scan her for a microchip.

  3. Lindsay Pevny 5 November 2015 at 3:40 am #

    OOOOH. Duh.

    I was just looking at my dog’s spay scar, and wondered what the green part was – nobody at the clinic told me! Me and her “dad” both have tattoos, how cute that we’re all tatted up!

    Thanks for your post Dr. Randolph, now I know!

  4. Carl 14 October 2015 at 4:06 pm #

    Is it possible for a male dog to be Neutered and still have his testicles? My wife brought a very small dog(9.5 lbs & 1-1/2 years old). I was told he was neutered. He’s very hairy & I am unable to find his tattoo. If he had a tattoo I believe it would be very small. Any ideas?

    • Dr. James W. Randolph 14 October 2015 at 4:28 pm #

      First question, can you see testicles? If yes, he hasn’t been neutered. Which doesn’t mean he didn’t have a vasectomy, which would render him sterile, but which doesn’t protect his prostate gland from constant bombardment of the hormone testosterone. However, vasectomy is rarely performed in veterinary medicine. Second, if he is cryptorchid, you wouldn’t SEE the testicles if both are in the abdomen, but he is unlikely to be sterile and his testicles would still produce testosterone. Cryptorchidism can be unilateral (1 testicle visible, the other hidden) or bilateral (both testicles hidden). I’m curious about his doctor-care status. Did you ask his veterinarian these questions? If, on the other hand, you haven’t yet taken him to a doctor, that should be done right away so that he can have a thorough examination, proper vaccinations, heartworm preventive and testing for intestinal parasites.

  5. Wendy 14 May 2011 at 7:50 pm #

    I have a question about the types of tattooing that are available for pets that are spayed or neutered. I am a clinic supervisior of a low cost spay/neuter, Wellness clinic that is about to open and I am researching different ways to do this. Is there a link somewhere to help me out?

  6. Melissa 12 March 2011 at 6:56 pm #

    I adopted an older cat who the previous owner told me is fixed, but she doesn’t have the tattoo. Is there anyway to ensure she is fixed and get the tattoo for her?

  7. LElliott 5 March 2011 at 3:53 pm #

    Hello, My rescue dog has a green blob of tattoo ink on his abdomen, really close to his inner leg. There are no numbers, lines, or symbols. It looks more like the tattoo needle was placed randomly all over a 1/2″^2 area.
    He was neutered while in the shelter, and they claim he came in with the tattoo. Any idea what it is for?

    • Dr. James W. Randolph 7 March 2011 at 7:09 pm #

      Lydia, I can only venture a couple of guesses: 1, maybe the previous owner tried an amateur tattoo. 2, it could be a birth defect of some type. Strange, isn’t it?

    • Katie 6 September 2014 at 7:47 pm #

      My dog has the same green dot but smaller. It’s like someone took a pencil eraser, dipped it in paint and put it in the same spot you dog’s is. No idea why..

      • jessa 27 May 2015 at 5:42 am #

        Shelters in the US give dogs small green DOTS; not lines. I have adopted a few pets and (especially the males) have a green or bluish ink blot on the side of the abdomen (near the spot where a female pet would have her incision for an altering surgery.

        • Dr. James W. Randolph 27 May 2015 at 11:40 am #

          I’m sorry to have to disagree, but there is no standard for spay/neuter tattooing, so veterinarians are free to make dots, lines, circles, whatever indicates that the patient has had gonad-removal surgery to prevent him from having unnecessary surgery. Nor is there a standard on color, so green and black are commonly used, but other colors are equally acceptable. Thank you for reading our blog, Best Wishes, Dr. Randolph.

  8. Littleblackdog 8 September 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    One of my dogs was in a county animal shelter before he was fostered out and I adopted him. The shelter neutered him and tattooed him with a blue circle with a line through it. I wondered about the necessity of tattooing a male. Thanks for the information.

    • Dr. James W. Randolph 8 September 2010 at 7:37 pm #

      Go back to the post, http://www.mypetsdoctor.com/tattoos-indicate-spay-neuter , and scroll down the page until you find the word “cryptorchidism.” There you will read, “While it might seem that it would be obvious in the case of male dogs and cats, a condition called cryptorchidism demonstrates the necessity of a tattoo for them, too.”
      Cryptorchidism occurs when testicles fail to enter the scrotum and instead are retained in the abdomen. If neither the left nor the right testicle leaves the abdomen a scrotum will never be formed and a veterinarian is left to wonder whether the pet was neutered very early in life or has testicles in the abdomen.
      Retained testicles are predisposed to two types of cancer and a condition called torsion of the testicle. Torsion results in a painful, potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate emergency surgery.
      A male pet presented for abdominal pain, with no testicles in the scrotum and no surgical tattoo may undergo unnecessary abdominal surgery looking for a torsed or cancerous testicle that isn’t even there.
      So, when your pets’s doctor recommends a small, discreet surgical tattoo with your pet’s alteration surgery, don’t hesitate to say “yes.”
      Feel free to write back if you have any more questions, Dr. Randolph.

  9. Evelyn Burchfield 13 August 2010 at 7:22 am #

    Dr. Randolph, many local veterinarians in the Birmngham, AL, area are familiar with the spay tattoo line marking, but some have said they do not know how it’s done. Is there a reference point you can recommend that I pass along to these veterinarians? I’m involved with Boston Terrier Rescue of Alabama, Inc. and we would like to have all of the females we spay marked to avoid future unnecessary surgical procedures just to check should one of these dogs end up lost again. We are microchipping, but would like the spay tattoo as well. One Dr. asked me if it is beneath, beside, or “on” the spay line… Can you please offer some advice? Thanks so much!

    • Dr. James W. Randolph 21 August 2010 at 7:01 pm #

      Evelyn, send me as many veterinarians as you like and I will be more than happy to explain to them, in writing, how to perform the tattoos. There are a couple of techniques that I know of and I’d be glad to share. Thank you and all of the rescuers who are doing such wonderful work, Dr. Randolph.

  10. Sherry Coggin 21 June 2010 at 12:41 pm #

    A dog recently wandered onto my property. She appears well cared for and is obedient. I noticed a tattoo on her abdomen in the area where spaying surgery would occur. It is a green line approximately 1/2 inch long and maybe 1/8 inch wide. I talked with several veterinarians in my community (Carrollton Georgia – 30 minutes west of Atlanta) and they are not familiar with tattooing an animal after spay/neuter. Can these tattoos be used to identify an animal in any way? Do you know which states use this tattooing? Any information you can give me would be appreciated. Thank you….

    • Dr. James W. Randolph 23 June 2010 at 12:48 pm #

      Interesting post, Sherry. I’m really surprised that you were able to find more than one doctor in your area who wasn’t familiar with tattooing spayed and neutered pets. I was also interested to see that you mentioned the tattoo was a single green line, which is the style the Humane Society of South Mississippi uses. Their Web site is HSSM.org. Did you ask one of the doctors’ offices to scan the pet for a microchip? It may well have been chipped when it was spayed. Please keep us notified, as we would like to help you get this baby back home where she belongs. Thank you for caring, Dr. Randolph.

  11. heather 27 September 2009 at 2:11 pm #

    Do you have a picture of what the tattoo looks like for a spayed female dog that you could post? Thanks


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