Providing identification for your pet
Placing identification on our pets is a basic task for a pet guardian, yet so many well-loved pets become lost without a collar and an identification tag to bring them safely home.
Is this really a problem for our pets?
It is! According to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP), fewer than 2% of lost cats and only 15-20% of lost dogs are ever returned to their guardians. Just because your pet lives inside is also no guarantee of safety. Linda Lord DVM, of Ohio State University, reports that 40% of lost cats in one community were indoor-only cats and only 19% of cats reported lost had any sort of identification (AVMA)
On April 17, 2013, a fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas caused massive damage and half the town was evacuated. In addition to the overwhelming loss of human life and property, countless pets wandered lost from devastated homes. During hurricanes, tornados, and floods, animal welfare agencies spring into action to save lost pets whose guardians were unable to return to safeguard them. Help your pet find a way back to you in any emergency, from a common loose window screen to an unexpectedly violent storm.
Collars and tags
A collar and identification tag is the simplest and most economical way to make sure your lost pet finds a way back to you. Still, many pet parents delay or resist adding identification to their pets. We can help you with some of the most common concerns.
I tried a collar once and my dog objected
It is important to introduce your pet gradually to anything new, including a collar. Start without tinkling tags or jingling bells. Place the properly fitted collar on your pet for 10 minutes or, if the pet does not appear to object, for a few supervised hours. Reward the pet with a treat and playtime and remove the collar. Replace and remove the collar multiple times over a few days, until your pet is comfortable and associates wearing the collar with great things — fun time with you! Repeat the process after adding identification and rabies-vaccination tags. A pet who has never worn a collar should not be left unsupervised until you are certain he or she has accepted it. A positive introduction to a collar will make your pet far more comfortable wearing one permanently.
If your pet doesn’t mind the collar but the tags cause him some distraction, consider using a nameplate that is riveted to the collar, or a collar embroidered with your current phone number.
I worry that my pet may get hung up on a collar
A well-fitted collar (in general, allowing two fingers side-by-side to fit between the pet’s neck and the collar) is less likely to hang loosely, reducing the chance of something sliding underneath it. With cats, a well-fitted collar also eliminates the chance of the cat grabbing the collar in her jaw or slipping a leg through a hanging loop. Look for “breakaway” collars. They are sturdy, but will helpfully unclasp or break if the dog or cat is caught and struggles.
When walked on a leash, all cats and most dogs should have their leash attached to a properly fitted halter, rather than their ID collar.
But that noise!
Some people find the constant jingling of multiple tags (ID tag, rabies tag, license tag) distracting to them inside the home. Jingling tags can be quieted in a variety of simple ways. Brass nameplates can be riveted directly to the pet’s collar. “Tag silencers” are made of soft flexible plastic and fit around the outside of the tag. You can even laminate the tag on both sides with regular clear household tape (although this will need to be peeled off and replaced as it wears out). A rubber band wrapped multiple times around a tag will keep it from clattering against other tags.
A collar can be purchased with your pet’s name and phone number embroidered directly upon it.
Depending on the type of collar your pet wears, you may be able to write your phone number directly on the collar with black permanent marker. Flea collars or cat “calming collars” can often be written on. Take care to use gloves and wash your hands after handling a flea collar (Note: Discuss flea control with your veterinarian. A flea collar may or may not be the most appropriate option for your pet). Pen-writing will need to be refreshed periodically as the ink fades. While an ID tag is the best option, in a pinch grab that marker!
Remember, pets grow and their collars must grow with them
Young pets will outgrow their “childhood” collars. Adult pets can gain or lose weight. This will alter the fit of their collar. When playing with or grooming your pet, always slide two fingers between the collar and your pet’s neck to verify it is adjusted properly.
A microchip is a permanent pet ID and lasts the life of the pet. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is injected beneath the surface of the pet’s skin between the shoulder blades. The process is similar to a routine vaccination, and anesthetic is not required. Microchips are read by passing a microchip scanner over the pet’s shoulder blades and body (in case the chip has migrated from the original site). The scanner emits a low radio frequency that reads the microchip’s unique code. This identifies the pet. HomeAgain is one popular brand of microchip and they have a number of great stories on their web site about lost pets being reunited with their guardians.
According to one study at the Ohio State University, microchipped cats were 20 times more likely and microchipped dogs were 2 ½ times more likely to be returned to their guardians, when compared to the general population of stray cats and dogs that had entered the shelters surveyed in the study.
It is important to keep the pet guardian’s contact information updated. When a pet is adopted from a shelter or adoption group, or transferred to a new home, the new guardian should immediately update the microchip information. When the guardian moves or changes a phone number, this must also be reported to the microchip company. While many shelters will make a valiant effort to try to track down an owner when the microchip information is out-of-date, this takes valuable time and may prove to be impossible. Keep that microchip info current! More information about keeping your microchip current can be found here.
Microchips are also an option for smaller pets like rabbits, ferrets, and some birds. Birds should be microchipped by a veterinarian with experience with avian medicine, as the technique is different from mammals.
Even with a microchip, a collar and ID tag will get a dog or cat home most rapidly. Not many of your nearest neighbors have a microchip scanner in their back pocket! The microchip is great back-up if a collar should become lost.
What about tattoos?
Tattoos serve a variety of purposes on pets. Spay incisions are sometimes tattooed by veterinarians so if the scar fades, the tattoo is still visible. An incision tattoo can save your lost spayed pet a second surgery if she finds herself unclaimed in a shelter, looking for a new home.
“Identification tattoos” are registered markings that can also help your pet find their way home. However tattoos can fade and become difficult to read. They can go unnoticed if the person who finds your pet doesn’t think to check an ear or the inside of a thigh for a tattoo. Even if your pet is tattooed, a collar and ID tag and a microchip with current information will get your pet home quickly. There’s no such thing as “too much ID.”
Do it for your pet’s safety
Research shows that ID tags play an important role in bringing dogs home. Just as we carry identification in our wallets to help us navigate our human lives, our pets deserve the same safeguard.
Your homework today: Check your pet! Does your pet have a collar and is it safely fitted? Is he or she carrying his own identification to bring them safely home?
If your pet should become lost
You can find a world of information on lost pet recovery at the Missing Pet Partnership web page.
When disasters strike
Check out our Disaster Preparedness web page.
Spread the word!
If you notice a friend or family member’s pet does not wear ID, consider giving them a collar and tag as a present. Offer to pay for a microchip at their veterinarian for their birthday or any special holiday. There’s no better Mother’s Day or Father’s Day gift for the pet guardian who treats their pet like their favorite child!