why, what, how, and more
When I first heard about tattooing rabbits I thought it seemed pretty unnecessary. My DIL and I raise rabbits together and we have a small rabbitry. We know our breeding stock on sight by name.
Then the rabbits started multiplying.
We couldn’t tell the kits apart once they made their way out of the kindling boxes. We tried Sharpie markers and food coloring to mark different litters. That worked, but the marks faded fairly quickly. Then we had to catch all the little boogers to remark them. Having several dozen little ones racing around our feet was pretty overwhelming.
When I got some unexpected birthday money, I ordered a tattoo pen.
Bunny life is much simpler now.
This page contains affiliate links. If you click and buy, I make a commission. Thank you for keeping my rabbitry in ink. ❤
Tattooing is about identification.
When you have many bunnies (especially when they are the same color) it helps to have an identifying mark to tell them apart.
Having an easy way to identify a rabbit is helpful when planning and tracking your breeding. At a glance, you can know which bunnies are related or who is due this month.
It can help with identifying a lost or stolen bunny.
Tattoos are required for pedigrees, registering your rabbit, and showing them. (Even if you are not showing if you are raising pedigreed rabbits, having a registered rabbit means it fits within the breed’s standards and is a quality rabbit! That’s a good thing.)
Learn more about ARBA (American Rabbit Breeders Association). How to register your rabbit.
As a standard, people tattoo a series of numbers and/or letters in the rabbit’s left ear (the right ear is reserved for tattooing a registry number if you register your rabbit through ARBA).
Once a rabbit is tattooed, the numbers/letters are permanently assigned to that rabbit and should match the numbers on its pedigree if it has one. Tattoos may be refreshed if they fade, but not changed.
(If you are tattooing for your own records and your bunnies will never attend a rabbit show, you can tattoo anything you like. My DIL has considered just tattooing a small symbol to identify her bunnies. I have some purebred New Zealands, so I do the standard letter/number thing.)
What you tattoo is up to you as the breeder. Your system of numbers and letters should communicate to you the information you want to know at a glance.
As an example, here is my tattoo system: DME17
D – The first letter represents my rabbitry’s name. D is for Dandelion Hill.
M – Mom’s name is Moo (she’s a big bunny and looks a bit like a Holstein). For this system to work, all my does’ names must start with a different letter.
E – Dad’s name is Einstein (no, he’s not really that smart, I just needed a name that started with E). All the bucks’ names must start with a different letter as well.
1 – The first number is the last digit of the year – 2021.
7 – The next number is the bunny’s individual number – in this example, 7. No other kit of Moo’s will have that number in 2021. I start with 1 and keep counting. (Some breeders give odd numbers to bucks and even numbers to does.)
If I were to pick up this tattooed bunny, I would know that it comes from my rabbitry, Moo is the mom, Einstein is the dad, and it was born in early 2021 (Moo’s 7th kit of that year).
You can, of course, make your tattoos shorter or longer. Just be reminded that we are talking about tattooing a bunny ear. You only have so much room (especially with the smaller breeds).
Here are a couple of good articles on tattoo systems.
The Nature Trail: A System for Ear Numbers
Edelweiss Ranch: Choosing Rabbitry Tattoos
the set up
Find a quiet area where you can stand or sit comfortably to work. You will need a work surface large enough to comfortably handle a rabbit and your tattooing gear (you need a little elbow room so you don’t knock over the ink while you’re working).
Wash your hands and clean any surfaces.
Gather your tools.
tattoo ink and small well
tattoo pen or clamp
towel – While tattooing, you want your rabbit to be fairly still. Wrapping the rabbit in a towel (left ear exposed) will calm the rabbit and help you do your work without too much wiggle.
tattoo ink and small well – Ink comes in small jars. Pour enough ink into the small well to use for that day. Do not return unused ink to the jar. You want to keep your ink clean and uncontaminated. If you need more ink, pour more into the well.
rubbing alcohol – Use a bit of rubbing alcohol to clean the tattoo area. I use a square of paper towel and gently scrub to remove any dirt or wax.
numbing spray – This cuts sensation which means less stress for the bunny and less movement during tattooing.
balm – After tattooing, cover the tattoo with a bit of balm to soothe the area and protect it from dust and dirt.
tattoo pen or tattoo clamp
Tattoo pens look a bit like an electric toothbrush with a vibrating needle in the tip. You dip the needle into your small well of ink (it sucks up a bit) and you are good to go.
I highly recommend that you practice using the pen on a banana first to get used to how it works.
A tattoo pen gives you the freedom to write what you want (no limit to the number of digits), but is impacted by the quality of your handwriting.
A tattoo clamp is a springy set of pliers. You set the number/letter pins into the clamp and with a simple squeeze on your rabbit’s ear, you have a neat and uniform tattoo. Gently rub ink into the holes created (some folks use a small paintbrush) and you’re done.
Do test each tattoo setup on a piece of heavy paper before doing the actual tattoo on your rabbit’s ear. With so many letters and numbers, it’s easy to reverse numbers or mix things up.
Using a clamp limits the number of digits in your tattoo (usually four to six), but the tattoo is uniform and neat.
Be sure to clean all your equipment with rubbing alcohol after use. Let everything dry well and tuck your tools away ready for next use.
I also like to check in on my rabbits later in the day to make sure everything is healing up nicely. Any extra ink on the ear will wear off in a couple of days.
You can tattoo a rabbit at any age. I have found that little ones tend to have less sensitive ears, so I like to tattoo them at around 7-8 weeks. When tattooing an older bunny, do use a numbing spray and give it time to work.
As an aside, you will want to put the tattoo numbers on any paperwork associated with your rabbits. They are required on pedigrees, but they are helpful on sale slips or in breeding records. I find that a simple log listing all my tattoos is a helpful resource.
In my log, I just do a straight list of tattoos as I do them (I have a doc file on my computer, but you could use a notebook and pen). I list by litter with their birthdate and dam/sire and add notes as needed. As an example:
BREEDING STOCK (names or abbreviations)
1-17-21 MOO / ESN
DME12 (doe for breeding trio)
DME14 (doe for breeding trio)
DME15 (buck sold to Rainey’s Farm)
1-25-21 PIP / SWT
DPS13 (buck for breeding trio)
Tattooing is a bit of work and requires some organization, but it’s a helpful tool for your rabbitry.
Freebie download: Bunny Breeding Record - for keeping it all together.
rabbit with tattoo in ear © monikasmigielska from Pixabay
banana © Lori Byerly / Dandelion Hill Homestead
Pinterest image / bunny with one ear up © Sandy Millar / Unsplash
Additional Pinterest image credits
bunny in a round © Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay
rabbit pair © pure julia / Unsplash
bunny group © peyman toodari / Unsplash