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The Complete Guide to Pet Identification

The stats are shocking. According to the ASPCA, 1/3 pets will be lost or stolen in their lifetime. Of the roughly 2.5 million stray dogs that enter shelters, only 26% will be returned to their owners. Sadly, one-third of dogs in shelters never leave and are euthanized. What are you doing to protect your pet in the event they become lost? This complete guide to pet identification will introduce you to the best methods to ensure your pet’s safe return.

When a pet goes missing, the golden window to successfully find your pet is the first 12 hours after their disappearance. Nearly 90% of lost pets are recovered within the first 12 hours if their owners are actively searching for them. After that, the chances of finding them reduces significantly with each second that passes.

One of the most influential factors in having your lost pet returned to you is by them wearing some form of identification when they get lost, but there is controversy over what type is best. Truthfully, anything is better than nothing, but the best answer is a collar with some form of ID, in conjunction with a secondary form of ID.

The Collar & ID Tag: Your Dog's Primary Id

A standard collar represents a worldwide, recognized symbol for an “owned” dog. Coupled with the owner’s information attached with a tag or an engraved plate on the collar itself is a powerful reunion tool for lost pets and their owners.

Benefits of ID Tags & Plates:

  • Provides instant identification of your pet.
  • ID tags are easily readable by anyone without the use of technology.
  • They are readily available, inexpensive, and fully customizable.
  • This single item is the most useful form of identification to have your lost pet returned to you, and quickly.

Drawbacks of ID Tags:

  • Potential safety risk as they can become hooked or caught while your dog is running or playing.
  • Can become detached and lost.
  • Several tags together can become bulky.
  • Tags can be noisy from the jingle of metal on metal.

The drawbacks of having your pet wear an ID tag is very minor when you compare it to all the benefits. To prevent tags from becoming a safety issue an excellent alternative is to have your information engraved on a personalized collar or a slide on ID plate which rests flat against the collar. Unless the collar is removed from your pet, the information will stay with them. And the best part? No more jingly tags!

If you choose to use ID tags, when you order, order two. That way you have a backup tag ready to use in the event one is lost.

Ideally, your pet should wear a collar with ID all the time. Too many pet owners make the mistake of only putting them on for walks. Chances are when you are not prepared that is when your pet will go missing.

My dog has a microchip, why do they need to wear ID on their collar?

Microchips and tattoos are forms of permanent identification and provide proof of ownership. They are an excellent form of secondary ID, should your dog become lost without a collar or tags on. ID tags provide instant access to your contact information. They do not require any third-party database to reach you, so it is the quickest and most effective method in reuniting pets with owners.

Ideally, your pet should wear a collar with ID all the time. Too many pet owners make the mistake of only putting them on for walks. Chances are when you are not prepared that is when your pet will go missing.

What Information to Include on a Tag

You asked, and we answered. A common question sent to us is what information should you include on your pet’s ID tag.

ID tags and plates have a limited amount of space available to include important information.

A standard tag typically has room for 2-4 lines of text, popular choices for information to include:

  • Your Pet’s name
  • One or two phone numbers to contact you
  • A personal message like “I am microchipped” or “Call my mom” or “I’m friendly”.
  • Your city

You will have to prioritize what information to include because space is limited, so you may want to stick to the basics. If you have a pet with special needs like medical or behavioral issues you may want to include more information.

Do I include my pet’s name?

Including your pet’s name is a nice personalized touch. If your pet is overly friendly and their name on the tag is easily readable from a short distance, it allows an opportunity for someone to call the dog to them.

What contact information should I include?

Include at least one phone number: home, work or mobile number. Depending which phone number is more likely to be answered and has an answering machine in case of a missed call will determine which one is the best to include. If you have a secondary number and space on the tag, include it too. *Always include your area code, and in case you are a traveler who may take their pet with them, you will want to add the country code.

Should I include an alternate phone number?

Yes! By adding a secondary contact, you double the chance of allowing the caller to reach you.

Examples of alternate contact numbers: Your vet, groomer, boarding facility/pet sitter or trainer. These are all trusted professionals, familiar with your dog, and would be knowledgeable to assist the caller with making arrangements for your dog until you can be contacted.

Should I include my name?

This is a personal option but isn't essential for someone to reach you. It is likely to take up valuable real-estate which could be used for more urgent information.

What about my address?

A full address is not necessary, but your city or area you reside in is helpful. Not everyone is comfortable putting their address on their dog’s tag. It could be useful for someone who finds your dog locally to return them directly to you.

My dog has a microchip. Should I include a line like “I’m microchipped” to my dog’s tag?

Yes, adding a line like “I’m microchipped” to your pet’s tag is advantageous for a few reasons:

  • It provides a prompt for the finder to have your pet scanned.
  • Microchips can migrate from their injection site. If the animal’s tag insists the animal is indeed microchipped but nothing is showing on the scanner, it gives the message that it is there, so please keep looking.
  • When your pet is scanned at a vet office or animal shelter, the owner information can be verified. When a pet is found, the finder wants to ensure they are returning the animal to the rightful owner and this would allow them to check the credentials of whoever comes forward to claim the pet.
  • Because microchips are irrefutable proof of ownership and can not be removed, it will ward off anyone with ill intentions of acquiring your pet as their own or offering them for sale as the dog can be traced back to an owner (yes, sadly these things happen).

Note: This is not a suitable substitute for not having a microchip, and should not be used if your pet does not have a microchip.

Why would I include Medical Information for my pet on their ID tag?

Your dog may genuinely have a medical condition that requires ongoing treatment. It may be regular medication to manage a condition or may even be imperative to treating a life-threatening condition. Or your pet may not have a medical condition at all, but you may consider mentioning it anyway.

Example: "Medical Needs" Or "Need Medication" Here’s why:

  • This puts an urgency on the finder to reunite the pet with the owner, sooner.
  • It can help deter someone who found your dog and considering keeping them as their own.
  • Your dog may need treatment or medication when found. The finder is more likely to seek veterinary assistance in this case and get the required help for your dog.

Should I include information about a “Reward” for the safe return of my pet?

If you are able to pay a reward, then consider it. The prospect of a reward may be enough incentive for the finder to put extra emphasis on finding the pet's owner.

Should I include a personalized message?

If you have room, it is a nice touch.

Something along the lines of “If I am alone, I am lost” prompts the finder to recognize your pet is fact lost and not just allowed out for a wander around the neighborhood (not that we would ever recommend that).

Mircochips & Tatoos:  Secondary Identification

Secondary types of identification available to pet owners are microchips or tattoos. While these can be used to locate the owner of a lost pet, they require the use of a database and third party to retrieve the owner’s information. Their primary function is to serve as permanent identification and concrete proof of ownership. These are helpful as a backup method to identify an animal in case they have lost their collar or tag.

Microchips

Microchips are a small implant, about the size of a grain of rice, embedded under the skin of an animal by a vet, using a large needle. The procedure is minimally painful and can be performed during a routine vet visit. The chip contains a unique series of numbers that act as a serial number specific to that animal. A scanner is required to display the unique identifying code which can be traced back to the owner with the use of a database provided by the chip company. Most vet clinics will scan found animals for free.

Microchip Pros:

  • Long lasting, permanent ID
  • Can be inserted without sedation

Microchip Cons:

  • Require a chip scanner and database to contact owner
  • More expensive initial cost and/or require a database maintenance fee/subscription

Tattoos

In the past, tattoos were commonly used by vet offices, animal shelters, rescue groups, and breeders to track and identify animals. Since tattoos need to be performed under anesthetic, their popularity has declined as more people choose to use microchips instead. They do still serve the purpose of permanent identification.

If an animal with a tattoo is found, the tattoo can be traced to the vet clinic who created it, who in turn can contact the owner of the animal.

Tattoo Pros:

  • Generally inexpensive
  • One time application/permanent ID
  • Readable by anyone (without the use of technology)

Tattoo Cons:

  • Hidden by hair or fade over time making them difficult to read
  • Requires the animal to be sedated to tattoo
  • Need use of database to track to the owner

One single method of identification, whether it be a tag, plate, customized collar, tattoo, or microchip is good, but a combination or two or more is better. Each has their unique benefits, but their drawbacks are relatively minor compared to not having your pet returned due to lack of identification. Remember that identification is only as good as the information contained within them. Keep your information up to date, accounts current, and do not forget to change your contact details with each move, preferably right before or at the time of any changes.

Always be your pet's best advocate. Prevention and preparedness are the best course of action to ensure that your pet has the highest chance of coming home. If your pet goes missing you need to actively be searching for them all while hoping a good Samaritan will call if they find your pet. Make their job easy by providing multiple forms of identification to assist in reuniting you with your pet.

By Katie @Pet_IQ. Katie is a Pet Industry Consultant, Dog Trainer, Rescuer, PetCoach Advisor, and specializes in “All things dog”. She proudly shares her home with four lovely rescue dogs and is on a mission to educate pet owners.