With generous support from Cornell University’s Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, ACC&D worked with faculty, undergraduate, and graduate students from Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Human Ecology Fiber Science & Apparel Design, and College of Engineering in a novel and interdisciplinary initiative to improve on traditional animal ear tags. We also benefitted greatly from volunteers from Oregon to Ohio to North Carolina.
In this project, we began by evaluating potential tag materials for their weight, flexibility, breathability, resistance to tearing, cost, and durability, particularly in different weather conditions. We determined that solution-dyed acrylic fabric--the same type that's used in outdoor patio cushions, for example--best fit these requirements and could accommodate an RFID tag to communicate even more information about an animal. We further concluded that a price-tagging "gun" showed greatest promise for creating a tiny hole through which a fastener can be threaded and hold the tag in place; in fact, this application method has been successfully used to mark and identify guinea pigs.
The prototype tag has been evaluated in three separate studies, with mixed results. A small study started in 2016 in indoor-outdoor pet cats, which applied tags when cats were anesthetized for dental work, yielded promising results in terms of cats’ responses to wearing the tag, retention, and lack of irritation or infection. We continue to monitor retention of the tag in most of these cats. Unfortunately, in a “real-word” study in dogs in conjunction with an international rabies vaccination campaign, we found that dogs exhibited discomfort with application even with a topical anesthetic, and tags were lost relatively quickly (a process that caused no damage to the ear).
Given the outcome of a field study in dogs, ACC&D believes that this tag does not have enough viability to justify further trials or exploration of stronger fastener options for dogs. Due to preliminary retention outcomes in indoor-outdoor cats, combined with the likelihood that feral cats would require sedation for even non-surgical fertility control in the field, we believe that there is potential to further evaluate this tag prototype in free-roaming cats with use of sedation and analgesia, and under guidance of a Board-certified veterinary anesthesiologist. We are currently planning for this study.
Photo credit: Eloise Cucui (dog tag photo)