Tracking Your Dog or Cat: Identification Methods
Tracking your dog or cat by identification methods such as collars with ID tags, tattooing, and micro-chipping are ways to identify your cat or dog if it escapes or becomes lost.
Each year, a tremendous number of companion animals either escape from their homes or become lost, and few of them are ever reunited with their owners. One study found that only 2% of cats and 16% of dogs accepted by shelters are ever claimed by their owners. Proper pet identification can lead to a greater number of happy reunions.
Even if you have an indoor cat, or your dog is always supervised or fenced in, this doesn't guarantee that your pet won't dig his way under a fence or jump through a door or window left open by mistake. The basic form of identification for both indoor and outdoor pets is the leather or nylon collar or harness with an ID tag imprinted with the owner's current address and phone number. ID tags come in metal or plastic, and small metal tubes into which a piece of paper with name, address and phone number can be inserted are also on the market. A city or county pet license tag and a current rabies tag are additional ways to identify your animal, should he escape or stray.
Get your pet used to a collar when he is young--as early as six to eight weeks old--and make sure it fits correctly (one or two fingers should fit under it). A breakaway collar with an elasticized section is best for your cat, because it prevents choking should it catch on something like a tree branch. But since tags and collars can fall off or be deliberately removed by pet thieves, consider an additional and more permanent form of identification for added protection: a tattoo or a microchip.
Although an increasing number of animal shelters believe that tattooing is old-fashioned and problematic, others still find it a useful tool in identifying lost pets. Tattoos have led to reunions of pets with their owners, aided in prosecuting those who abandon their animals, settled ownership disputes between two parties over an animal, and even spared some animals from being subjected to laboratory research.
On the other hand, tattoos are difficult to apply properly without a lot of practice, and many have proved untraceable, illegible, or even invisible (on long-haired or dark-skinned animals). Applying a tattoo on a small puppy or kitten can be particularly tricky. Ear tattoos are routinely clipped off by pet thieves, or ripped off in fights between animals. Also, there is no consistency in the identifying marks, which can include anything from a coded series of digits and letters officially assigned by a national tattoo registry, to a graphic symbol, to a phone number. Since a number of tattoo registries have come and gone over the years, tattoo markings may no longer be easily traceable. Also, people move, or give their pets away, and a tattoo with a no longer valid phone number or address will probably not be helpful.
But despite the problems, many shelter directors and veterinarians believe that tattoos are more practical than microchips--which require special scanners to read that they may not have. They are also effective in areas with a long history of tattooing and strong public support. An additional use for tattoos is as sterilization identification near spay/neuter incisions, which can prevent repeat procedures on already sterilized animals, particularly females.
Your veterinarian and sometimes your local shelter can tattoo your pet with an identification number. Private individuals working for national registries can also perform this service. Some animals need to be sedated for the procedure, and the tattooed area should be kept shaved so that it is always visible to anyone who may encounter the animal if it becomes lost.
A pet identification alternative that has grown in popularity is microchipping. In the American Kennel Club's Companion Animal Recovery program, up to 95% of enrollments are for microchips.
The procedure is simple, fast, and painless, involving an electronic chip about the size of a grain of rice carrying a unique code being implanted under the skin between the shoulder blades.
A lost animal brought to a shelter or veterinary office that is equipped with a scanner can be checked for a microchip. The chip's code will be displayed when it is held over the animal's back. The code can then be called in to one of the national databases of microchipped pets for information on the animal's owner. However, an individual, shelter, or veterinarian without a scanner will not be able to determine the owner of a microchipped animal.
Microchipping has been popular for about twenty years, and it has proved invaluable in reuniting many dogs and cats with their families. Although several manufacturers produce identification microchips, universal scanners can read any company's microchip.
Call your local shelter to find out if they scan strays and microchip adopted animals. Your veterinarian may also be able to microchip your pet.
Some shelters recommend combining the two methods of identification: tattooing and microchipping. With a microchip-tattoo combination, the tattoo can act as a symbol that the animal is microchipped. Microchips have been known to migrate within an animal's body and may not be detected right away by a scan. A tattoo will indicate that the microchip is present and should continue to be searched for.
The important points to remember when using tattoos or microchips are that the numbers must be listed with the proper registry, and phone numbers and addresses must be kept current. One of the biggest pet registries in the country, the National Dog Registry, has a database of tattoo and microchip information for over three million dogs, cats, and other animals. In addition, shelters have access to a nationwide directory of shelters, and they can also conduct an Internet search of all the major pet identification registries.
Written by Ardeth Baxter Copyright 2002