Can dogs get tattoos? Everything to know about this controversial (and often illegal) practice

You love your dog, you love tattoos... But can your dog also get inked up? We break down what's allowed; and what's not legal.
Dog and Cat Expo in Manila
Dog and Cat Expo in Manila / NurPhoto/GettyImages

They say that owners and their dogs often look the same, but there’s one aspect of your human life that you should absolutely avoid matching on your pets: tattoos. It might make a certain amount of sense for you and your schnauzer to both have mermaids with the word “mom” on them on your shoulders… But can dogs get tattoos?

The short answer is that yes, dogs can get tattoos… But only in specific circumstances that we’ll detail below. Sure you may share every aspect of your life with your canine companion, but getting inked up is a medical and ethical issue you may want to consider differently than, say, eating from the same plate.

Do dogs get tattooed when spayed or neutered?

This is one of the two circumstances where it’s okay to tattoo your pet… But only a specific type of tattoo. When getting your dog spayed or neutered at a licensed veterinarian, they may offer to tattoo a small blue or green line near the scar, since that fades over time. This way, a doctor can easily identify whether the animal has been spayed or neutered if other health problems crop up later in life.

It’s usually optional, but can be beneficial to the health of your pet. And since they’re anesthetized during the operation anyway, the tat won’t hurt them.

When else can a dog get tattoos? How about IDs?

This is the second instance where getting your dog a tattoo is a-okay, though up to your discretion. The National Dog Registry keeps track of pets through a tattooed ID method that’s been in place since the 1960s. They recommend you do the tattooing when the dog is a puppy, and it’s an easy way of keeping track of your best friend, particularly if they get lost or stolen.

It’s fast, painless, and can be done in a number of different locations available online.

That said, PETA – while not nixing ID tattoos for dogs entirely – does recommend the newer microchipping process instead. So something to take into consideration!

Daniel Normark
Beagles From Mass Breeding Factory Up For Adoption At Animal Rescue Center In Virginia / Anna Moneymaker/GettyImages

Can my dog get a permanent tattoo?

Absolutely not. Actually, sorry, to be clear: you can in some states, but no, don’t do this. About a decade or so ago, it suddenly became the hot new thing for tattoo artists to give dogs wild tattoos, either matching their owners or just to go viral on the burgeoning world of social media. Taking it a step further, other “artists” would pierce dogs, and “goth cats” where they were pierced down their spines, were a hot item for a while.

However, unlike a quick ID tattoo, or something done in a doctor’s office, this is considered animal abuse. You should know that, right? I shouldn’t have to explain this is abuse? Because it is. The tattoos can cause infections, and – despite how much you communicate with your pup – the animals cannot consent to the tattoo.

Also about a decade ago, New York made tattooing animals against the law. While other states have vaguer animal abuse laws that may provide some wiggle room, take the cue of The Empire State and do not, under any circumstances, permanently tattoo your dog.

Can my dog get a temporary tattoo?

So we’ve firmly established that you can’t permanently tattoo your dog, but what about temporary tattoos? We’re going to once again have to go back a decade or so to when a company named Pet Ink very briefly made this a fad. Essentially, it’s patterned hair dye for dogs, to make a skull temp tat, or other pattern.

The company doesn’t seem to exist anymore, and temporary tattoos aren’t available on retailers like or otherwise. However, this is mostly the same level as dyeing your dog’s hair. I personally don’t love it for similar reasons to the tattoos, albeit with far less danger as long as you’re using pet-safe dye, but your mileage may vary.

Can I get a tattoo of my dog?

Yes. This is fine. You are a human. Go nuts. In fact, it’s pretty popular to get a paw print of your dog as your tattoo, so they’ll always be a part of you even after they’re gone. If you want to do that, there are kits available online; or you can take some black paint, roll it on their paw, put their paw on a piece of white paper, and bring it to your local tattoo artist. Just don’t ask to get your hand print put on the dog, as well.