It is mandatory that you tattoo your rabbit for identification purposes before you can compete in a show.  The tattoo must be placed in the left ear.   

There are many ways of tattooing a rabbit but the most popular method is the clamp style. It is both very easy and very fast.  Some breeders prefer the electric/battery operated tattoo equipment for the small breeds and reserve the clamp style for the larger breeds, while others show no real preference.  Only you can decide what is best for your rabbitry.

The cost of clamp style tattoo equipment will vary considerably depending on the brand you select and the accessories required by your system of tattooing.  In most cases equipment is shipped with Number pins only.   Adding a set of Letter pins to the tattoo equipment can almost double the total cost.   The basic clamp-type tattoo kits with one set of digits, (usually numbers) will cost you about $35.00 from your local Tractor Supply dealer.  Add a set of letters (A to Z) that can be purchased separately will cost you another $30.00 and you will have in the neighborhood of $65.00 invested for an average to good set of tattooing equipment. 

The electric/battery operated tattoo equipment will again very in cost depending on the brand name and again on the style, battery or cord electric.   The cordless style, depending on amperage rating and duty cycle can be more convenient than the cord electric.  This would be particularly true if the equipment was to be used at a show or other location where a ready electrical source may not always be readily available.   Electric tattoo equipment, battery or other wise is much more expensive than clamp style tattoo equipment.  A basic battery operated tattoo pin can run $150.00 or more.  Touch up models are considerably cheaper.  Why spend so much more money?   I think the only real advantage to the electric equipment is the ability to customize your work. Another advantage can be its use on smaller rabbits 

Experienced breeders often find that tattooing rabbits without an assistant is not a problem, but for the inexperienced the aid of an assistant to help restrain the rabbit is well advised.  Both for the breeder’s convenience and the rabbits well being. 

People often ask if Tattooing is painful for the rabbit.  The answer is yes. But the pain only last a very short time, if the procedure is done correctly.  It is rather similar to people getting their ears pierced.  The Rabbit will jump or lunge when the tattoo pins are inserted into its ear.  This is why it is so important that the rabbit be securely restrained.  Wrapping the rabbit in a towel with just its head sticking out will make this task much easier and will help prevent injury to both the rabbit and to the handler.

If you examine the clamp style tattoo set you will see that each number and letter is made up of a group of small needles that form the shape of each character.  When the Tattoo pliers are closed on the rabbit’s ear the pins will make a series of little holes in the flesh of the ear.  Tattoo ink is then rubbed into the holes where it makes a permanent stain in much the same fashion that ink is injected under the skin when a person gets a tattoo.

How to Tattoo ~ Getting Started

The first step in the tattooing process is to decide on a numbering and/or lettering system that will be used to identify animals in your rabbitry.  In developing a system, several considerations need to be kept in mind.

Tattoos can be a number, a word, or a combination of numbers and letters.  Some breeders simply use short names like Tom, Pet or Jan so the tattoo names as well as identifies the rabbit.  Combining a name with a number expands the possibilities. Other systems incorporating combinations of numbers and letters can be devised that will tell even more about an animal.

 The following are examples of some systems and how they work:

Remember when developing your system that the idea of the tattoo is to identify your rabbit as being different from any other of the same color or breed in your rabbitry.  All that is necessary is that the tattoo on a particular rabbit be unique from any other tattoo in your rabbitry and individual enough that it will not likely be duplicated by another breeder at a show.  For this reason, just tattooing the rabbit’s name in its ear, TOM, DICK, JANE, or JUNE may not reach the level of uniqueness that might be desired.  But then again, that is up to you to decide.

Sample Tattoos

Romeo is bred to Juliet.  The subsequent litter is Juliet’s 1st.   Rascal, a buck, is the 4th bunny ear marked out of that litter of 5.  The litter was bred and born at the Verlannahill Rabbitry.

A system of 5 characters identifying Rascal might look like this


This tattoo identifies the buck and Doe, the letter A stands for the first litter, the number 4 identifies the placement in the litter and the last number, 1 (an odd number), identifies Rascal as a buck.

A System of 5 characters identifying the rabbit might look like this


This tattoo identifies Verlannahill as the rabbitry, Romeo and Juliet as the parents, the letter A the first litter out of Juliet and the last number being an odd number identifies Rascal as a buck.

A more conservative system of 3 characters might look like this


This tattoo simply identifies the parents and the last character being an odd number identifies Rascal as a buck.

Notice that the last character was always a number that identified the sex of the rabbit.  There is no rule that makes this a mandatory part of your system, but following this procedure does add uniformity and is customary among many breeders.  Whatever the system you choose to use it will often be determined by the breed of rabbits you raise, the size of their ears, and what works best for your style of record keeping.  There is no one system that is better than another.  It is up to you to choose the system that works best in your individual rabbitry.  There is however one requirement that ARBA has set for the ear tattoo you choose.  It must be placed in the left ear of the rabbit for identification purposes.  The right ear is reserved for the registration tattoo should your rabbit meet the necessary requirements of the breed for registration.  Also remember when choosing your system that most tattoo pliers will only hold a maximum of 5 characters.

Once you have settled on the system you will use for tattooing your rabbits, you are ready to gather together the equipment and materials for putting the actual tattoo in your rabbit's ear.

A suggestion may be in order here: If you only have one or two rabbits that need tattooing, the expense of buying your own equipment may not be practical; consider instead of asking another breeder or a 4H leader to help you tattoo your rabbits.  Sometimes the registrar at a rabbit show will have time to tattoo your rabbit if asked, but remember they are often very busy so keep this option as a last resource.

 The Tools and Materials you will need for Tattooing.

  1. Tattoo pliers

  2. Tattoo pin sets – both numbers and letters are recommended depending on the system you choose.

  3. Tattoo ink – water-soluble is preferred.

  4. Ink applicator – small soft bristle brush or tooth brush works well.

  5. Preparation H – a handy idem to have along but not a requirement.

  6. Septic powder – to control bleeding, a very handy item to have.

  7. Tissue paper or wet wipes. – A must.

  8. Rubbing sterilize equipment – A must.

  9. Q-tips – Very handy.

You should have prepared in advance a sturdy flat surface on which to place your rabbit for the tattooing procedure.  A permanent-grooming table with a square of carpet glued to the top is perfect.  Lacking that, a carpet covered grooming board large enough for your rabbit to rest on comfortably will suffice.  What is important is the carpet; it offers a non-slippery surface where the rabbit will feel more secure and can be better controlled.

Once you have all your supplies ready, select the tattoo pin numbers and letters you need and place them securely into the tattoo pliers.  Test the tattoo on a piece of paper to make sure the letters and numbers are in the correct position.  By doing this first, you can avoid making a serious mistake when you tattoo your rabbit.

When everything is ready and tested it is time to disinfect with alcohol the tattoo pins and those parts of the tattoo pliers that will come in contact with the rabbit’s ear.  The tattoo pins will be piercing the rabbits ear and infection is a serious possibility if your equipment is not clean and disinfected.

Preparations have now been made and you are ready to remove your rabbit from its cage and place him on the grooming surface.  This is a good time to examine your bunny for anything that should be taken care of; toenail clipping, sexing, ear mites, fur mites, sore hocks, or any other physical problems that your examination might reveal.  This will also give time to settle the bunny down and help him relax.  It will also give you a chance to check your rabbit’s ear for the best spot to place the tattoo.  Try to avoid areas containing abundant vessels or where vessels cross and bleeding might be a problem.  Also check that the tattoo will not be placed into the fur area of the ear.

Clean away any surface dirt and disinfect the surface of the ear with rubbing alcohol, both the inside and outside.   Take care that no alcohol is allowed to run down inside his ear.  At this point some breeders like putting a dab of ink directly on the ear where the tattoo will be make giving them a basic idea of how the tattoo will look when finished.  Also some of the ink will be picked up by the needles and carried into to the pinholes with the pin during the tattooing process.  One important point, keep your ink clean and uncontaminated.  The brush you use to dip into the ink and apply the ink to the ear should be cleaned after each use. 

It is very important for the safety of the rabbit that it is restrained during the tattooing process.  This is where an assistant may be needed.  Have the assistant wrap the rabbit in a towel with only its head sticking out.  With the rabbit resting on the grooming surface, the assistant should lean over the bench clamping the bunny between their body and their forearm.  With their two free hands, hold the head of the rabbit so it cannot move.  This is very important.  If the rabbit should move violently during the procedure it is possible that the ear could be  seriously injured.

With the pliers centered over the selected area of the ear, squeeze the pliers firmly and release immediately.  It does not take a great deal of pressure to force the needles into the flesh of the ear, less for very young rabbits.  It is not a problem if the pins go all the way through the ear, some breeders prefer doing so.  Release the pressure on the pliers and set them aside.  Check the appearance of the tattoo to determine if it is good.  If there is a problem with the tattoo, apply some Septic Powder to the area and retry the tattoo in a few days once the ear has healed.  Do not apply any ink.  Never attempt to re do the tattoo immediately.  It is next to impossible to apply the pins to the exact same area a second time and any attempt to try will most certainly end up with a spoiled tattoo. 

If the tattooing process went well, and there is no reason it should not have, apply more ink and rub it into the tattoo holes with the toothbrush applicator.  Be careful not to rub too vigorously as it can make the ear bleed more than usual. It is important, however, that the ink is forced into the holes or the tattoo will not be legible.  It is better to use too much ink than too little and be forced to repeat the process another time.

If bleeding appears to be a problem you can apply some Septic Powder to the ear at this time.  Using your thumb and forefinger to apply pressure to the area of the ear that is bleeding will usually check the problem.  Continue to apply pressure until the bleeding stops.

Once the inking process has been completed to your satisfaction and persistent bleeding is not a problem or has been controlled, apply a dab of Preparation-H to the area, both front and back of the ear to seal the holes and help control any minor bleeding.  This measure will reduce the risk of having the tattoo ink bleed out.  The medication also has a soothing affect that will be welcomed by your rabbit.

The final step is to carefully wipe away excess ink and Preparation-H and inspect the tattoo.  If you notice any lingering bleeding sprinkle more septic powder on the area and leave it alone.  Give your bunny a favorite treat and return him to his cage.  Check back on your bunny after a few minutes to make sure all is well.  Tattooing is a stressful event and he will appreciate a little TLC, (tender loving care).

As a clean-up procedure, pour some rubbing alcohol in a container and let your tattoo equipment soak for a few minutes in preparation for its next use.

*** Some helpful hints***

John W. Jones

Copyright April 2005 All rights reserved

Verlannahill Rabbitry