Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell

Shelter Dogs  

Maddie's® Shelter Medicine Program at Cornell

Using Tattoo Ink to Identify Spay Scars

A spay scar can easily be permanently colored for easy identification by the application of tattoo paste to the incision at the time of surgery. Green paste is best as it is easily recognizable and is not mistaken for natural pigmentation. Be sure to point out the green incision to your clients so they do not mistake it for infection or gangrene. It should also be noted in your written discharge instructions. You can use a sterile cotton-tip applicator, or a needle and syringe to apply the paste. Alternatively, you can inject ink intradermally adjacent to the incision. Some surgeons prefer to make a separate superficial skin incision adjacent to their S/N incision and apply ink into this incision. This is sometimes called a scoring tattoo since the skin is scored with a scalpel blade and then ink is then applied. This technique can be used for both female and male patients as demonstrated by a veterinarian at the Humane Alliance Spay/Neuter clinic in Asheville, NC in the Land Tattoo video. These procedures for tattooing are very safe and are not associated with increased risk of incisional infection. By design, tattoo paste is intended to be safe for such purposes.

Land Tattoo video (the video will take a minute to load; please be patient)

The ink comes in a tube (similar to a toothpaste tube). It is available from veterinary suppliers such as Midwest Veterinary Supply ( or farm animal suppliers such as Hoegger Goat Supply. The cost is around $5 per tube and a tube can be used for hundreds of procedures.

To apply the ink using a sterile cotton tip applicator, simply roll the applicator in ink and then apply it along the cut edge of the incision after the subcuticular or intradermal layer is closed (see pictures). The needle and syringe method is neater than applying ink with a cotton tip applicator and is described below in detail by Dr. Tracy Land of Project Spay/Neuter in Georgia.

Fill a 3cc syringe w/22gauge needle with approximately 1 cc of paste from the tube. After the subcuticular or intradermal layer is closed, depress the plunger of the syringe just enough to get a tiny bubble at the end of the needle, and draw a line with it on one cut edge. After applying the ink, you may apply tissue glue if needed. Be sure to use ink first, then glue, or it may not adhere. According to Dr. Land, "if you're old enough to remember liquid eye-liner, it's pretty much the same. Use just enough to draw a line, more and you end with a blob. Your lines will get neater with practice." See the Scoring Tattoo video (below).

Scoring Tattoo video (the video will take a minute to load; please be patient)

Regardless of the method used to apply the ink, the surgeon should be sure to apply it while still wearing surgical gloves to prevent it from getting on his/her skin. Ink can be removed from the surface of the skin using rubbing alcohol, or it will wear off in a few days. Be sure to change needles or cotton tipped applicator between patients. It is always a pleasure to find a nice green line when trying to determine if an animal has been spayed! There is nothing worse than performing unnecessary abdominal surgery. And, being able to identify that an animal is spayed can in and of itself be life-saving to pets entering shelters. Brenda Griffin, DVM, MS