How (and Why) To Tattoo Rabbits
I raise nice white meat rabbits, and even though I mess with them daily, I cannot tell them apart. Most days it doesn’t make much of a difference, but trying to keep records about who has had medication, which one is due for breeding, and keeping track of all the important things a responsible breeder needs to know would be much easier if they were easily identified. I found a solution for this from the show side of rabbit production.
If you plan on showing your rabbits you need to know that the American Rabbit Breeders Association show rules mandate that a clear and readable tattoo be present in every rabbit exhibited in a sanctioned show. This is important to be able to prevent lowlifes from stealing your rabbit, or switching their looser rabbit for the champion rabbit you spent so much time on. Personally I have no interest in showing rabbits, but I am not going to pull a Zumbo and belittle someone for keeping a rabbit for a slightly different purpose than mine when we both agree on much of the basics.
If you’re like me an never plan on showing your rabbit, it does not really matter which ear you choose to tattoo, but if you ever show your animal, you need to know that identifying tattoos need to be in the left ear. This is because championship identifiers are tattooed in the right ear. Personally I stick with this standard because it is easy, all my rabbits are marked in the same place, and well you just never know if I turn showing rabbits into a new hobby…
Some breeders use a complex system where one letter is for the father and the next for the mother with additional numbers being for litters, relationship to the litter and sex. Others have a system where the numbers are meaningless and are only identifiers The possibilities are endless and by developing a unique system, it is possible to ascertain the animals identity in great detail should his written records get lost. Personally for my set up My male is number 1 and is kept in the leftmost cage, the female to his right is #2, the next #3, and the doe on the right most side is #4 – I don’t tattoo my babies as they are going to be eaten at about the time they get large enough to tattoo. When I replace a breeder rabbit, the replacement gets the number of the rabbit it is replacing….
The way it works is not unlike primitive tattooing on humans. The skin of the ear is penetrated with needles. Ink is rubbed into the holes, and once healed leaves a permanent mark. To make a legible mark and to reduce the stress on the animal as much as possible a special tattoo clamp has been designed. Basically it is a large set of pliers with one side being a rubber backer, and the other leg holding special alpha-numeric needle block. When you place the clamp on the ear and squeeze it punches the ear to allow inking.
Besides the recommendation that the tattoo being placed in the LEFT ear, there are some other placement considerations you need to be aware of. The tattoo should be deep enough in the ear to avoid any hair around the fringe of the ear. This is because this hair will often impair the legibility of the mark. You also need to take care to avoid the vein that runs down the ear as well as any other large blood vessels. Shine a strong flashlight through the ear and you can see them. If you accidentally puncture one of the vessels it may cause above average bleeding, but it should not cause any long term harm to the animal and will usually stop bleeding in a short time. Place the tattoo clamp correctly though, and you will have little or no bleeding. Proper tattoo inks contain alcohol to aid in healing and help prevent infection should some bleeding occur. Do not rely on the alcohol in the ink to take the place of proper clinical principles.
The procedure is simple:
- Clean the area with an alcohol swab to remove any oil and dirt that is in the ear. This will not only assure a clean site to insure fast healing, but also helps make the final result a clearer mark.
- The tattoo should be placed in the ear so that it is readable when the ear is opened and looked at from the left side of the animal. By positioning the animal with the nose to your left, you will insure that the mark will be readable from that position when finished. Many rabbit tattoo sets will only allow the digits to be placed into the tool “right side up”, so you will not be able to make the mark that is upside down when tattooing from the left side of the animal. Even though mine only allows the letters in the correct order I still confirm everything is right by testing the mark on a piece of paper prior to tattooing the animal. Do not forget that the digits will appear reversed while in the tool, so be careful that you have the digits in the proper order.
- Restrain the animal to prevent injury to both the animal and the operator should the animal move suddenly during the tattoo process. This is also important to assure that the final result is desirable as any sudden movement while tattooing the animal will result in an illegible mark. Many people use boxes, but just wrap the animal in an old towel and have a helper hold the rabbit down. Some build a small box that has a hole in the top that the ear can stick through. If tattooing several rabbits in one session, this idea might prove useful and speed up the process. Realize that the animal will most likely try to move as you squeeze the tongs, and be ready for it so you cause as little pain as possible and get a clear legible tattoo.
- After positioning the tool properly, squeeze the tattoo tongs together firmly. A common mistake is to squeeze the tongs until the rabbit responds and then release the tongs before the needles of the digits have thrust through the inner skin of the ear. It is imperative that the tongs be completely closed to make a penetrating imprint. On young animals it is not uncommon for the digits to penetrate completely through the ear. After gaining experience, you will develop a feel for the right pressure to apply to the tongs to make a good mark. Don’t be alarmed if the needles penetrate the ear. This will still result in a legible tattoo and the backside of the ear will heal over and not leave a noticeable mark on the outside. It is better to go completely through the ear than to apply too little pressure and leave a mark that is illegible.
- After making the imprint, apply ink to the tattoo with a brush. Rub the ink vigorously into all the puncture holes. (Tip: The bristle brush can be trimmed shorter with scissors to make a stiffer brush for better penetration.)
If the tattoo needs to be read within a short time of the tattoo process, you may wipe the excess ink from the ear with cotton or tissue and then apply a light film of Vaseline to the tattoo. It should be distinct and legible immediately. If you do not need to recognize the tattoo immediately, it is not necessary to wipe the excess ink away as it will wear away in a few days leaving the clear mark. Personally, I let the excess ink wear off naturally.
This is a very simple process, and the costs are pretty reasonable. I believe my kit was around $30.00 and was easily found by doing a simple internet search.