Feral Cat Ear Notching

We know nothing about Frankie’s back story. We adopted him at Petsmart from The Pinellas County Animal Services. The person at Petsmart did not know anything about him so we just didn’t think much about it, although I did send a Facebook message to the animal services with his reference number but, even though they have an active Facebook page, I got no response.

Our cat Frankie

I couldn’t help being perplexed, though, by the ear notch on his right ear. I have heard about ear notching before. It is the method of cutting a notch in a cat’s ear after spaying or Neutering. Sometimes it is called ear tipping when they remove about a centimeter off the tip of the ear.

Ear notched cat

Ear tipped cat

Ear notching or tipping is mostly done to feral cats involved in a Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) program. It identifies that they have been fixed so they are not trapped again and put under the knife a second time. I prefer the notch because it is less disfiguring but a ear-tipped cat is easier to identify from a distance. It is also more likely that a notch could be mistaken for an injury or vice versa.

The notch got me thinking. If he was a feral cat, why is he so friendly? Of course, not all notched cats are feral, some are strays, but if Frankie was caught as a stray with the intention of fixing him for adoption, why would they notch his ear? Perhaps it isn’t a notch. After all, it looks more like a slit than a triangular notch.

Our cat Frankie's ear notch

Frankie’s ear notch

I did a little research and found that ear tipping on the left ear is most common but there is no universal standard. Frankie’s quasi notch is on his right ear. That led me to believe it was more likely the result of a fight and didn’t think about it again until we visited my mother-in-law.

She has two cats. One of them is a gold cat named pumpkin that has the same slit on his right ear. Coincidence? Possibly. It is also possible that in this area, a small sliver of a notch in the right ear is how some vets do it.

Pumpkin the cat


I tried to do a Google search to see what the standard is where I live on the west coast of Tampa Bay, Florida, but I found nothing concrete. I searched Petfinder for cats in my area and found four or five with a tipped ear but none with a notch. So the mystery remains. It doesn’t really matter where Frankie comes from and if I never find out, I won’t care. I just can’t help loving a good mystery.

Do you have a cat that has been notched or tipped? Do you know what is common where you live? I’d like to hear about it.

66 thoughts on “Feral Cat Ear Notching

  1. kittiesblue

    Never heard of or saw a notch like this before. Ear tipping is the standard here (Virginia). Have you asked your vet? It does not seem like a coincidence that you have found more than one cat with this. From where did your mother-in-law get her cat? If this is being done instead of tipping, it certainly is less disfiguring, but as you pointed out, probably not visible from a distance. Now that you have posted this, someone will probably have an answer for you.

      1. Andrea

        I have a cat with a notch in her right ear too. Always wondered if a battle wound too, but the notch is a perfect triangle. I adopted her from a shelter and she came from a trailer park in Indiana. I am thinking she was feral and fixed, as when I adopted her she cried and wanted outside so bad. Never let her out and she is now a happy indoor cat.

  2. The Island Cats

    I’ve never seen this kind of notching either. Around here, they tip the cat’s ear. But it’s unusual that you would have found another cat with its ear notched the same way. I hope you can find some answers about this. If you do, make sure you update us!

    Island Cat Mom

  3. randomfelines

    Our rescue does lots (!!!) of TNR. The standard around here is tipping the left ear. We would have to check, but we think that is what Alley Cat Allies suggests as well. We have some tipped cats for adoption. So.times they get trapped, spayed/neutered and tipped. Then the cat wakes up and you realize the cat is friendly.

  4. pilch92

    My Snowball is from a shelter and she was ear tipped on her left ear. I don’t know why this was done when she was rescued from a hoarder and fixed at the shelter to be adopted. She was never “feral” -another mystery unsolved.

    1. Charles Huss Post author

      Maybe they just tip all non-attached cats. Although most cats I saw on Petfinder had nothing done to their ears. I guess it is still a mystery. Where is the shelter that Snowball came from?

  5. onespoiledcat

    Yep – I’m inclined to think it was the result of a scrap with another cat……but it is a mystery – tipping is what’s done in our state as Kitties Blue pointed out…maybe it will be one of those mysteries that’s just NEVER solved!!

    Hugs, Sammy

  6. elizz

    i adopted my cat Tiger from the shelter… i really wanted a male cat so they told me to look for a cat with a tipped left ear.. they said that neutered male cats have tipped left ear and spayed female cats have right tipped ear, that’s how it’s done here in my country.. and they also told me that when they do TNR they usually do the ear notch (like a v-shape) for easy identification even from a distance so they wouldn’t be trapped again when they see the notch, left notched ear for males and right notched ear for females for neutered ferals.. I brought Trico, (one of the feral kitties that i regularly feed) at the vet for spaying last sept4.. the vet did a notch on her right ear.. she’s doing okay now, she’s a happy kitty and her operation is already healed..

      1. elizz

        from the philippines.. i’m not really sure about the other shelters here but from where i adopted my Tiger that’s how they do it.. so when i wanted to adopt a male cat i just looked for the ones with tipped left ears.

  7. ebeth1233

    Hi there, I run the PCAS Facebook page and do not recalll ever getting a question like that from you,but to find out past history you would need to call the shelter itself. But this is not a feral cat notch, it is more likely from a fight. Here4i s an article showing the way it looks. Glad your kitty is in a happy home! http://www.stevedalepetworld.com/print-archive/tribune-media-services/archived-features/307-trap-neuter-return-of-stray-and-feral-cats-the-responsible-solution

    1. Charles Huss Post author

      Thank you for commenting ebeth (Is that Elizabeth?). I sent the message June 15. If you did not see it that is understandable. I handle social media for my job and sometimes miss things. I was leaning towards a battle scar and it seems you have confirmed it. Also, I will call the shelter when I can to see what else I can find out about Frankie. Thanks for the help.

  8. Shirley

    My now indoor Ferral was fixed by my vet, but the other male outside ( the one he fought always when a Ferral )… I still feed twice a day & have a nice house inside another building for him,.. he has one blind eye & I noticed the other day his left ear has a v notch,,, I did not see the cat for about a week ,, so I think it was caught & fixed… sweet cat, I feed through the downstairs window & comb her head & neck while he is eating.. Wish I could ck ears.. I did deworm last yr. by putting in his food.. May do again. My now indoor Ferral Cat hates him … so when I feed it through the window I have to contain my cat.. she once flew out the window ( came downstairs) & chased the other cat away.. I got him back inside.. he is learning to be an indoor cat.. my older 20yrs. cat is now getting used to him…. but she still hisses etc. at the male. the only thing I hate is the claws.. has ruined my wall paper dstairs & a chair.. I clip the nails & have put those plastic caps on.. but they come off after a wk.. any suggestions… Also a counter climber & high places…. never had a cat that jumps on the highest place in the home,,regards,, sap,,, feeding two ferrals, & two indoor, plus a rescue dog..I am GiGI’s 3rd mom & she is a doll… have had animals all my life.. we used to take in rescues & get them all fixed… problems is we kept them all… no more getting to old..sp.

    1. Charles Huss Post author

      The world is lucky to have people like you Shirley. As far as the claws, just do what you can, don’t buy expensive furniture and don’t worry if something gets ruined. It’s just stuff.

  9. Collette

    I have quite a few feral and when I got them fixed they always clipped their left ear but for some odd reason 3 or 4 of them also have the tipped right ear ALSO. I don’t know why they did the tip but I guess it depends on the vet that fixes them. In your case, i would most likely think the vet in your area fixed your cat and your MIL cat or 2 different vets that tip the same. I know they started clipping because of just what you said. You don’t know if it’s a fight scar or tip. It was hard to identify.

    1. Charles Huss Post author

      I don’t know if it is the vet or the rules of the county or just the tradition of the area. I would rather see a notch than a complete ear tip but the notch has to be clearly a notch. Thanks for the comment.

  10. Kim Preston

    I found this cat limping in the rain. I have an appt tomorrow at ther vet. His ears are dirty giving him a bath soon. His left ear is tipped. He’s definitely domesticated. He’s very thin weighs 5 lbs.

  11. Jen Messier

    Found your post as I just rescued a friendly tom with a v shape notch in his left ear. I’m in NYC and have never seen a notch, only an ear tip. Does anyone know what regions tend to notch instead of tip? I’m wondering where this big guy came from and how he ended up in Brooklyn!

      1. Jen Messier

        Yes no worries! Notching is absolutely not the standard in NYC, ear tipping is, so I was quite surprised to see a car with a notch, indicating he was likely neutered outside the city. Just an interesting mystery!

  12. Alissa

    I live in WI and my cat Cedric has the same right ear slit… the doctor said it was a battle scar but everything i read is that they notched his ear in a TNR!!! And my kitten is just as lovey and sweet for a feral or stray!

  13. T

    My cats ear has like a W notch on her her. I been trying to figure out what it means, but I can’t figure it out.

  14. loisajay

    Hi Charles–I feed 4 neighborhood cats (they are not feral) up here in the FL Panhandle. My neighbor and I had all four cats fixed (2 males, 2 females) and all had their ear tipped. One cat that we thought was a female was actually a fixed male so we had the doc tip his ear so no one else would make that mistake with the poor guy again. That is some kind of battle scar on poor Frankie but what a handsome guy.

  15. Natalie Bersavage

    My friend took in a stray, she’s very friendly. Acts like she’s been in a home before. Right ear is notched, but she’s young. Maybe only 8 months old. I’m wondering if she’s spayed. Can’t find any concrete method for notching. Some say left ear, some say right. In my area there is a lot of TNR’S. I’m in northeast Pennsylvania.

  16. Nicole

    Hey Im in tampa also and my cat also has that notch and has spent most of her life outside so Im also curious.

  17. Charles Huss Post author

    Reblogged this on Bad Cat Chris and commented:

    Here is a post for Throwback Thursday that I did in 2014. It is about how feral cats are identified by an ear notch or the more noticible ear-tipping. This is one of the blogs most popular posts.

  18. James Bowman

    I have a female that i rescued back in 17 that has a notch on right ear Vet says its a fight wound, but have so far never seen her display any signs of being in heat A friend whose done tnr for last 8 years only knows of ear tipping here. Guess i could have had her shaved to check for scar but now at 13 possibly will most likely skip it.

  19. elenorjean

    Hi there, I found this page because I was googling about my cat with a notch in his left ear… I didn’t think twice about it to be honest when I first got him from the pound, but i have recently rescued another male – also with a notch in his left ear! In Australia they tip ears across the point so I don’t think it’s TNR… I guess they must have just been in fights!?

  20. Tiffany

    My cat ran away August one year when I lived in NH and it was the day before we moved across country. My family who still lived in the area continued their search and would call for him and he would meow back, but would not come to them. Months went by with no luck and soon they didn’t hear him anymore. In February the following year, my husband went back to NH to visit his family and I asked him to visit the local cat shelter to see if he was ever turned in. Turns out, he was turned in back in November! We flew him across country to continue his life with us and when I got him I noticed he had this slit in his right ear. I always thought it was from living in the wild for 3 months and getting in a fight with another critter. It wasn’t until today that I learned of tipping/notching! We had him neutered when he was a kitten, so maybe it’s possible that the shelter notched him with the slit in case he got out again?

  21. Ashlyn

    My cat also came home with a notch in his ear, but he was already fixed as a kitten. He’s indoor/outdoor. I originally thought it was from a fight too, but now I’m not sure!! Mystery indeed. It looks just like the picture and it’s a perfect triangle shape on his right ear.

    1. Charles Huss Post author

      I have seen many friendly, adopted cats with notches in their ear or ear tipped. I don’t know their backstories but sometimes I wonder why they put the notch in their ear.

  22. Brandon

    This is from Atlanta, GA. Recently, about 6 months ago, right around beginning of 2021, there has been a cat hanging out at the apartment I live at. She has a very similar ear notch at the right ear, and it seemed like her left ear had already been notched properly, so I was just googling about it and found this page.
    Well, Here is the story. She is not very afraid of people, until you are walking towards her direction, then she would immediately move out of you line of direction and observe you. And I would just stood maybe about 2 feet from her and stare back at her; she would be standing still with either her tail down or around her body as in defense form from what I read online. There was this one random day, I just decided to feed her with a piece of shrimp; she didn’t know what it was, played with it, and eventually understood it’s food she can eat. So I have been feeding her on and off. Since then, every time I walked by, she would stare at me…and I would fed her. Now she would just know that I am going to feed her, she would follow me, and then sit to wait for food kinda what a dog would do. During the time, I would try to pet her, and she is very afraid of it; she would dodge it as much as possible, but there are times, she would let me pet her (more like no choice but had to if she wanted to finish eating, but I can still tell she doesn’t like it). After eating, she would just go back out and lay down under a tree, or if I am in luck, she would play with me by laying down on ground with belly facing towards me, but if I get close, she would get up and take a few steps back, then repeat… she has only done that maybe like 3 times out of 6 months. Also, I never heard her making a meow sound.
    Anyway, I have some questions about this cat:
    1) I am here on this page because of the ear notch. Aside from the post author’s 2 cats, here is a third cat with…I would just say a very similar notch at the exact same spot. Did the post author find out the reason why?
    2) Another reason why I am googling this; so I was telling one of my friends about this cat, and I was immediately told that the cat has an owner. The only reasoning behind that statement is because the cat is very clean. (I took a lot of pictures and videos of the cat.) Which is why I am searching for clues if the cat is indeed has an owner… If so, should I stop feeding the cat? The cat is not bone skinny, definitely not fat, and I have seen another person fed her one time out in the parking lot…

    1. Charles Huss Post author

      I never did find out for sure what the story was wit Frankie’s ear notch.

      I think if your stray has a notch there is a good chance that she is part of a TNR program. That probably means someone is feeding here. It is also likely that there is more than one cat. Often they are part of a colony. I have seen a few instances of an outgoing feral coaxing food out of people while a more timid cat waits in the bushes for leftovers

      Also, ferals clean themselves as much as house cats. If they are healthy, they will also be clean.

      I hope that helps.

    2. Charles Huss Post author

      I forgot to mention what I thought about feeding. If she looks fairly well fed I would just give her a small treat at random intervals. I recommend a few pieces of Stella and Chewys. It is the healthiest treat the cat would probably get but it is also dry so not too much. Maybe around four pieces.


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