Rabbit Tattoo Box - Adjustable for Most Sizes and Breeds of Rabbits


The History of L3 Farm Rabbitry's Hand-Crafted Tattoo Boxes

L3 Farm Rabbitry is a "hobby farm" and another of the hobbies I enjoy is woodworking. A few years ago, I discovered an amazing tool one of my long-time rabbit breeder friends owned and used to tattoo her rabbits: a hand-crafted box that allowed her to hold and safely contain each animal during the process. I had never seen anything like it, and I was especially fascinated by the sliding panels that allowed it to be adjusted for very small rabbit breeds and young kits, all the way up to adult commercial rabbits!
Her own box had been created by a man who had shown rabbits for decades, but he no longer made them; hers was the last one he made, and her box was already over twelve years old! When I searched online to find a similar one for my own use, I struck out in a big way; it turned out that no one seemed to make them -- or if they did, they weren't advertising them online.
Not to be denied, I carefully measured every dimension of hers and built a similar one. When some of the people at shows saw mine, several expressed interest in having one of their own. It was at that point that I began making them for others.
And what is a "hobby farm?" It just means that my rabbits, woodworking, and decals are hobbies, as much as I'd like to do them full-time! I'm a computer programmer and data analyst by day; I do my woodworking after work and on weekends, whenever I'm able (and when I'm not managing my rabbits, or taking care of my cats and dog, of course!). Even so, I offer my woodwork to others because I believe in their value to the safety of rabbits and to make breeders' and exhibitors' lives easier. I have a lot of pride in my work, and I don't believe in making anything if it's not made to the best of my ability.
You can buy one of your own, and know that you're supporting a privately-owned-and-operated family farm and rabbitry. Everything is made on-site, by hand, and in the USA, and we're proud of it!

What is a Tattoo Box and Why do I Want One?

Rabbits are commonly tattooed on the skin inside one ear as a means of identification. It's extremely difficult to tell your rabbits apart, unless you only have, say, one. Or perhaps two, and one's black and the other white. More than that, and you're going to have problems eventually (are you Tom or Bob or Janelle? gah!). Tattoos are actually required before they can be entered in a rabbit show, to make sure the correct rabbit is on the show table, and also to protect it from being taken (intentionally or accidentally) by another breeder. But even if you don't show rabbits, you'll want to know which rabbit you're weighing, treating, or breeding. Tattooing is a permanent way to keep track of your animals, and it's a simple method that is easy to maintain.
A tattoo box allows you to tattoo the rabbit in a faster, easier, and safer way than with other common methods of restraint. It is absolutely necessary to use some method, both for the safety of the rabbit, and so you don't end up looking like you've lost a feral cat attack. Rabbits are at the bottom of the predator-prey chain, and they don't trust what they don't know (eek, a hawk!), so they naturally distrust being tattooed. Since most rabbits are only ever tattooed once (some twice, if they're later registered), they never truly develop a familiarity with it as they can to being handled or dealing with loud noises. They need to be kept still during the process; it's now just a matter of deciding which method you'll use to do it. I believe the safest method available is the tattoo box.

See it in Action!

Some time ago, I recorded a video to explain how the box worked, and give a demonstration of its use. You should be able to view it below, or you can view it directly on YouTube!

Why a Tattoo Box Might Save a Rabbit's Life

Because you are guiding their ear through the hole in the top of the box while you close the lid, there's no danger of them getting pinched by moving their head or trying to jump around. Once the box is closed, it's dark and feels secure, and the rabbit settles down (some even fall into a sleepy kind of trance). The box is designed with an angled pair of boards in the front, to keep their head facing in the proper direction. You only need to hold the ear firmly enough to keep it steady, not applying force to control the rabbit. It's much less stressful for the rabbit, and makes "tattoo day" a stress-free event for you, too!
The rabbit is unable to struggle like they do while being held manually by a sock, wrap, or barehanded, so a tattoo pen can be used with much better accuracy and legibility, and you'll quickly develop confidence in your tattooing. It only takes seconds to put them into the box and close the lid, and another minute or so to finish the tattoo and release them. They typically don't even know what's going on until it's all done. When I put them back in the cage, they just shake their head, then hop off to continue their pout on how unfair life is, what with all the free food and long naps and similar atrocities.
If you've been showing rabbits for more than a year or two, you've almost certainly heard of (and maybe even known) a person who has a terrifying tattooing story. Personally, I know people who have had rabbits suffer paralysis or die during the tattoo process. With one exception, these deaths and terminal injuries have occurred while the rabbit was restrained by hand or with a cloth wrap. It occurs when the rabbit squirms loose, or when they twist or jerk suddenly, right out of the hands of the handler (which they can do even when wrapped!). The injury occurs when they strike an object on the way down, or hit the floor at the wrong angle. There is a reason most rabbits seem reluctant to jump down from higher places; their spine is not designed to absorb shock like a cat's or dog's does. Some breeds are particularly fragile, but any rabbit can break their back or neck from a fall if they land in the right (wrong) way, just as they can from panicking in their cage and running into the wall at top speed. Rabbits seem designed to move, but not to stop.
In the one case of injury I've witnessed where a box was in use (not one of my own boxes, but it certainly could have been any one), the box had not been latched and was not being closely monitored. I'm sure that 99 times out of 100, this wouldn't be a problem, but this was that 1 time in 100 that it was. The rabbit was able to jump up and bump the lid open, and it leapt out. Its spine was broken and while it survived, it was not able to stand, nor feel any sensation in its legs. I do not know if the fracture occurred when it bumped the lid, or whether it was the subsequent fall, but it was a very sad event. The family who owned it, including their young children, had witnessed it first-hand, and they were devastated. With no reasonable expectation of recovery, it was humanely euthanized. I would never wish such an experience on anyone, and hope my boxes can prevent a similar event from impacting someone else. Please latch your box, even if the rabbit seems completely calm!
The longer a person works with rabbits and interacts with others who also raise rabbits, the more horror stories you tend to absorb over that time. I have friends who have raised them for ten, twenty, and even forty years or more, and many of these experienced breeders use a tattoo box, too.
There are several critical factors to a safe tattoo box, and some boxes don't address them as well as I feel they should. I've developed a short list of things that I consider absolutely essential, and a few others that I feel are indicators of the quality of its construction.

Not all Tattoo Boxes are the Same

When I had first seen my friend's box, it was the only one I'd ever seen. In the last couple of years since then, I've seen two or three other boxes around, but all of them have had what I feel to be critical flaws in design. At best, some of these differences make the box less convenient, flexible, or adjustable; at worst, I found some flaws I found to be quite dangerous!
A safe tattoo box must:
  • Be wide enough to avoid restricting breathing and allow the rabbit to fill its lungs without an effort. I have seen boxes made as narrow as 5 inches, perhaps because lumber cut to that width is cheaper; our boxes are 7 1/2 inches wide.
  • Have a horizontal, flat floor for the rabbit to stand on. Some designs use pegs to hold a floorboard at an angle that becomes steeper as the inside area is shortened. While this does render the rabbit more immobile, it does so by using the weight of the animal to compress its head against the front of the box. Rabbits breathe through their nose, and compressing their nasal passages is not only more awkward, uncomfortable, and distressing to the rabbit, it's extremely dangerous. It also puts stress on the cervical spine (neck) if the rabbit is able to tilt its head up in an attempt to breathe more easily. Our boxes use horizontal slots for floor adjustment, no matter how large or small the rabbit.
  • Be finished only with animal-safe products. Tattoo boxes should not use commercial paint, shellac, or varnish, especially anywhere the rabbit is intended to be in contact with the box. We leave the inside of the box completely natural. Even though there are no particularly accessible edges available for chewing from inside, if given time any rabbit can find (or make!) a hole or edge to gnaw on. If left unattended either inside the box with the lid open, or on the table where the box is, they will readily express their creativity by carving it with their teeth. For this reason, we leave the box unfinished for a completely natural look, and also offer an optional zero-VOC, certified-pet-safe rub-in wood finish.
  • Have enough adjustability that the rabbit is reasonably restrained and safely contained. The adjustments must allow for the rabbit to come up nearly to the top of the box, without being pressed down when the lid is closed; pressure on the spine can cause injury, but so too can a 'loose' box, where the rabbit is able to leap or violently arch and hit its back on the bottom of the lid. They must be unable to move forward or backward more than a small amount, but not be pushed so tightly forward that they are in an unnatural position.
  • Be able to be quickly and easily latched with one hand. That latch needs to be strong enough to resist jiggling loose if the rabbit pushes up against the lid, especially for the larger and stronger breeds. We only use spring-loaded draw/toggle latches, the kind used on toolboxes. They're easy to operate with one hand, and they are able to hold a box shut even with many pounds of tools inside while carried by its lid.
A well-made tattoo box also must:
  • Use high-quality wood. Plywood sheets can make a functional box, but one that may not last a lifetime, as it is prone to splintering and delaminating (where the glue used to hold the layers together loses strength and separates). They are also extremely sensitive, and can be ruined beyond repair, by excess moisture. Unless they are protected by a water-resistant finish, they will not last very long in areas of high humidity, and can be damaged by spills or rabbit urine (and little rabbit diapers are just not practical). Our boxes are made from extremely high-grade wood, and should last you for life without any finish at all (though we do offer options for extra water- and stain-resistance).
  • Use high-quality hardware. Our boxes do not use small hinges; we use continuous (also called piano) hinges. They are stronger and restrict the rocking motion that can cause normal hinge screws to pull out of the wood over time. We use heavy-duty, rolled steel carrying handles, rounded on all sides so it's comfortable to use. All of our hardware is made from stainless steel or aircraft aluminum, to prevent rust.
  • Have sanded corners and edges. This makes the assembly joints stronger in the event of a drop (because we all know we're the most agile and graceful creatures on the planet when juggling rabbits, right?) and it won't hurt as much if you come into hard contact with a corner. It also prevents damage caused by pushing, rubbing, or shifting inside your vehicle.
  • Have a bottom floor, in addition to the sliding floor panel. It provides a great deal of structural support. I've seen one box variant where they saved a few bucks by omitting a box bottom, and only provide a sliding panel. Ours have a bottom board, which protects the box sides from chipping or splintering, or warping from moisture damage. It also gives you a fun storage compartment to keep supplies in.
  • Have a quality guarantee. I have no experience with other manufacturers or their policies, but ours are built to withstand the test of time; any structural failure of the wood or any of the hardware is fixed or replaced at no cost (including the shipping cost for replacement parts, if not a local customer).

Clamps vs Pens for Tattooing

There are two primary methods used to make the tattoo: a clamp, or a pen.
The clamp is a repurposed tool that has been used for a long time for large livestock. It's been the only method available for a very long time, until the tattoo pen was developed. I do not like the clamp; it's probably well-suited for large animals with very tough ears, thick skin and a lot of cartilage. Rabbits have much more delicate ears, however, and they contain a vascular network that rabbits use to expel excess body heat. The vein in the ear is so prominent that veterinarians use the ear to administer intravenous medications, not a leg like they do with many domestic animals. My personal feeling is that it's not the greatest idea to cause trauma to that ear, if able to avoid it. Clamps work by using small plates in a scissor-like tool that holds them in position. The plates have strong, pointed pins arranged in the shapes of letters and numbers; they are secured in the tool, and applied by putting the rabbit's ear between the two halves of the clamp, and closing the handle so the points are forced through the ear completely. As soon as this is done, the tattoo ink is applied to the ear and rubbed into the wound. It's very painful and distressing for the rabbit, compared to the pen method. The back of the ear bleeds some, and the ink has to be left in the ear, so it often transfers to other things (mostly their own fur as they rub and try to clean it, and the breeder, because everything ends up on us). The clamp is still the method used by most registrars, so I have seen how many of my animals have reacted to both methods -- the same animal that will simply shake their ear a couple times after a pen tattoo -- jumps and claws when the clamp is applied, scrabbles at the table in an attempt to get away, and will tremble and flinch for some time afterward.
The pen is a newer method, developed from the same basic idea as a tattoo machine used on people for body art. A thin steel needle (with a tip that is split into even thinner points to more easily hold the ink and make the lines bolder and easier to see) is attached to a hand-held machine that looks similar to a pen (or even more closely like an electric toothbrush). The machine uses AA batteries to move the needle out and back in of a rigid tube that performs two functions: it creates a capillary action that draws ink into the tube, so the pen self-inks for a while, and positions the needle so it is kept straight and only the very tip of the tines are exposed. The needle is used to "draw" the tattoo onto the ear; it requires very little pressure (in fact, a lighter touch using quick, short strokes seems to work best, and results in darker, wider lines that don't fade much over time). The needle draws ink from its tube as it vibrates, and it is pushed under the surface of the skin of the ear. When done properly (without pushing unnecessarily hard or going over the same line many times), there is no blood at all; the ink is suspended between layers of skin; it's too deep to be worn off as skin naturally flakes and regenerates over the years, but not so deep that it causes trauma to the blood vessels in the ear. A properly applied pen tattoo is darker, more legible, and lasts much longer than a clamp-produced tattoo.
Some of the people I've met who still use a clamp have tried using a pen, but were unable to write legibly while trying to hold the rabbit. The tattoo box makes a huge difference. Everything is totally stable and the box provides a nice ledge to rest your hand and arm on. As long as they aren't trying to push the boundaries by writing whole sentences on a Netherland Dwarf, even people with horrible handwriting can ink out a legible tattoo with a box.
A tattoo box makes it very easy to make the leap to pen tattooing. It's also great for any other task that requires working with an ear, such as examinations, cleaning, administering medications, and treating ear mites or other ear problems.

Delivery to Local Shows

Boxes can be delivered to you at any show that I am attending (or can transport to). I also ship them anywhere in the US for $25 (the shipping cost is higher because it's an oversized package). When you buy the box on this website, the shipping will be added. If you opt to pick it up at a show, please e-mail me (see the Contact page) and we'll make the arrangements.
  • Model: TATBOX
  • Manufacturer: L3 Farm Rabbitry

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