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Safeguarding Your Pet: Identification


It can happen to the most careful owner: Your dog finds a hole in the fence you didn’t know about, a child or repair person leaves a gate open, your supposedly high-quality leash has a flaw and snaps. Suddenly, your dog is on the loose! Having some form of identification could make a world of difference in getting him back.

Collar Tags
The simplest ID is collar tags. You can get a rabies tag from the veterinarian with your vet’s office number on it and also have a city license tag. Both are good backups, but savvy owners also add a tag engraved with their dog’s name, address, and phone number. This lets whoever finds your dog call you first (which could save your dog the stress of a trip to the pound). Engraved tags are inexpensive, and many pet supply stores offer engraving services. Because your dog’s collar might carry three or more tags, a thoughtful option is to enclose them in special pouch-like containers, or tag totes, to prevent a constant clanking together in his ears.

Canister-type tags, which open to reveal a piece of paper with an owner’s contact info and other vital information, are a good option for frequent travelers. Unlike an engraved tag, canisters are easy to update with a temporary address, whether it’s a hotel, campsite, or a friend’s house, as well as a local number where you can be reached while away.

Tags can rip off, so another good precaution is to have your phone number and dog’s name embroidered onto his collar. (Even a waterproof magic marker will do the trick.)

A microchip is a permanent ID registered in a national database, which means that whoever finds your dog can find you before it’s too late.

The microchip is implanted under the skin between the shoulder blades. It is tiny, no bigger than a grain of rice, and is imbedded in surgical glass to prevent infection. When a lost dog reaches the shelter, a worker runs a scanner over him and the number appears, just like a UPC code on a product at the grocery store. When that number is entered into a computer, your contact information comes up.

Once your dog is microchipped, you pay a small once-in-a-lifetime fee to a registry that keeps and updates your contact information for the life of the dog. Your veterinarian will give you the forms and registration information when she implants the chip. Most shelters and rescue groups implant a microchip when you adopt a dog.

Many brands of microchips are available. In recent years, universal ISO-compliant (International Organization for Standardization) scanners have been developed that read all brands and frequencies.

Chips sometimes migrate down a dog’s shoulder or leg, so have your dog scanned by the vet during his annual checkup to ensure that the chip is still in place.

Tattoos provide another form of identification. Some people choose this option because they want a visible, permanent ID on their dogs. If your dog is stolen, for example, it will be easier to prove he is yours if there’s a mark on him that connects him to you. The tattoo is usually located on a dog’s inside haunch, although some dogs, like those raised for service work, get tattoos in their ears.  

Choose a number that is unique to you, and a professional will tattoo it onto your dog. Some registration companies that track microchips will also allow you to register a tattoo number in your dog’s profile.  

The ideal time to have your dog tattooed is while he is under anesthesia for another procedure, such as neutering. Talk to your vet to determine the best way to go about tattooing if this is an option you’re considering.

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