Why do Greyhounds Have Tattoos in Their Ears?

Why do Greyhounds Have Tattoos in Their Ears?

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Greyhounds in the USA have tattoos in their ears due to the way the national registry system for racing Greyhounds is set up. These tattoos are a form of identification and serve as a way to track lineage, race records, and to ensure the health and safety of the breed.

The Purpose of the Tattoos

The ear tattoos in Greyhounds serve a multitude of purposes. Primarily, they function as an identifier and safeguard for the animal. Below are the most notable reasons:

  1. Identification: Each Greyhound registry has a specific numbering and lettering system to identify each dog individually. The tattoo as a permanent mark helps keep track of every specific Greyhound, ensuring that no dog can be mistreated or lost without leaving a trace.
  2. Lineage and Race Records: The tattoos bear coded information about the dog. Most often, the code tells the year of birth and the order in which the dog was born within its litter. This helps keep a trackable record of a Greyhound’s lineage and racing history.
  3. Standards Enforcement: The use of tattoos helps enforce high breeding standards and the humane treatment of the dogs. If any breed-related health issues, or evidence of mishandling or mistreatment, arise, these can be traced back to the breeder due to this record system.

The Tattooing Process

All Greyhound puppies are tattooed before they reach three months of age, as mandated by the National Greyhound Association (NGA). The tattooing process, while very brief, plays a huge role in the life of a Greyhound.

  1. Design and Placement: The design and placement of the tattoos are specific. Each Greyhound has two tattoos – one in their right ear representing the litter registration number, and one in their left ear representing the birth order and birth year.
  2. Tattoo Application: Special tattooing tools are used for the process. The tattoos are applied quickly to minimize the discomfort experienced by the pet. Experienced tattooists ensure that it’s done correctly and as painlessly as possible.
  3. Post Tattoo Care: After tattooing, the ears might swell a bit and appear red for a few hours. This is why post tattoo care which involves cleaning and antiseptic application is required.

Tattoo Information and Deciphering

Given the structured, coded nature of the tattoos, they can be deciphered to learn about the hound’s history. Here is a general breakdown of what the tattoos mean:

Ear Information
Right Litter Registration Number
Left Alphabetical Letter – Birth Order / Last Digit(s) – Year of Birth

For example, if a Greyhound’s left ear is tattooed with H45. The ‘H’ signifies they were the 8th puppy born in that litter, as ‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet. The ‘45’ is the last two digits of the year they were born, making it 1945, 1955, and so on, depending on the age of the dog.

Tattoos and Post-Racing Adoption

Beyond their use within the racing world, the tattoos serve another vital purpose during retired Greyhounds’ transition to pet life. They enable adoption agencies to provide adopters with accurate information about the dog—its age, health history, previous treatment, and more—minimizing surprises and supporting a transparent, successful adoption process.

This utility of the tattoos acts as a testament to their importance and effectiveness in keeping track of these beautiful animals throughout their lives, whether on the tracks or in the comfort of a forever home.

Role of the National Greyhound Association

The National Greyhound Association (NGA), a governing body for Greyhound racing, is a key player in managing this tattoo system. It’s primarily tasked to:

  1. Register tattoos and maintain records: Every Greyhound tattoo is registered with the NGA. These records are carefully maintained, enabling tracing of any registered Greyhound’s history, lineage, and treatment.
  2. Facilitate ethical expeditions: The NGA ensures that breeders adhere to high ethical standards throughout the process. This includes making sure that the tattooing process is done humanely and with as minimal discomfort as possible.
  3. Manage disputes and issues: If a Greyhound’s tattoo is duplicate, unclear or somehow related to an issue, the NGA steps in to investigate and address the issue.

Differences Across Countries

While the United States’ system of Greyhound tattooing has been explored in detail above, it’s important to know that standards can vary by country. Key differences include the age at which the dog is tattooed, the information included in the tattoo, and the ear in which each element of data is placed.

An example of a differing system is found in Australia, where the standard is delineated below:

Country Tattoo Age Information Encoded – Right Ear Information Encoded – Left Ear
Australia 8 weeks Alphabet (Litter Identity) Numeric (Litter Identity)

The Debate Over the Tattooing Practice

Despite its usefulness in identification and ensuring dogs’ safety, the tattooing practice isn’t without controversy. Major arguments include:

  1. Animal Welfare Concerns: Some argue against ear tattooing, arguing that it can cause unnecessary pain or stress to the pups.
  2. Modern Alternatives: Detractors point to modern identification technologies, like microchipping, as more humane and efficient alternatives.

Regardless of these debates, as long as the NGA continues to mandate ear tattooing, it remains a key part of a Greyhound’s journey, from racing life to retirement.

The Tattooing Process in the UK and GBGB

The Greyhound Board of Great Britain (GBGB), the official governing body for licensed greyhound racing in the UK, doesn’t practice ear tattooing on greyhounds. Instead, the GBGB has entirely adopted the use of microchips for identification.

Microchipping under GBGB

The GBGB applies microchips to all Greyhounds under their jurisdiction before they reach 12 weeks of age. This alternative process has been adopted for a number of reasons:

  1. Humane Treatment: Some argue that microchipping is less distressing to the dogs than tattooing.
  2. Efficient Record Keeping: Microchips have an identification number which can be easily scanned and read by a microchip reader, providing immediate access to the dog’s details and history.
  3. Permanent Solution: Unlike tattoos, which can fade with time, microchips serve as a permanent, reliable source of identification.
  4. Legal Compliance: In the UK, it has been a legal requirement since 2016 for all dogs over the age of eight weeks to be microchipped and registered to an approved database.

Process of Microchipping in the UK

The microchipping process itself is quick, relatively painless, and carried out by a trained professional:

  1. Appointment and Prep: An appointment is made with a trained operator who cleans the targeted area, usually between the shoulder blades.
  2. Chip Implantation: A tiny microchip about the size of a grain of rice is implanted under the dog’s skin using a needle-like applicator.
  3. Confirmation and Documentation: The operator scans the dog after implantation to confirm if the microchip is working. The microchip’s unique ID, along with the dog’s description and the owner’s contact information, is updated in a national database.
  4. Post Care: While reactions to the microchips are rare, owners are advised to monitor the dog for any signs of discomfort or irritation.

So, in contrast to the National Greyhound Association in the USA using tattoos for canine identification, the Greyhound Board of Great Britain has wholly adopted a modern methodology of identification – microchips. This highlights a key difference in how Greyhounds are managed in these two leading Greyhound racing regions.

The Tattoo in Popular Culture

Tattooed Greyhounds have even found their way into popular culture. For instance:

  1. Greyhound by Steffan Piper: This novel tells the story of a young boy who befriends a tattooed Greyhound while on a cross-country bus trip, using the tattoo as a critical plot point.
  2. Racing Greyhound Figurines: Many figurines of racing Greyhounds include the characteristic ear tattoos, serving as a nod to devotees of the breed.

Despite the debates surrounding the practice, the distinct tattoos of Greyhounds continue to remain a significant part of their identity—spanning realms from professional racing to popular culture.

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