Helping Spot Get Home

We teach human children their name, address, and phone number in case they get lost.  Your dog cannot recite these things, but we can help him get home if he is lost by placing some identification on him.  There are three main types of identification:  tags, tattoos, and microchips.  Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Tags are by far the most common method of identification for dogs.  They are cheap, do not require any special equipment to attach to the dog, and can hold a dog’s name and a phone number with ease.  The disadvantage of a tag is that if the dog loses his collar, there goes his tag.  Also, tags wear smooth and become hard to read, or get torn off in the escape.  They are also easy to remove if someone decides they do not want to return your dog.

Tattoos are more permanent.  They are generally placed either on the lower lip or on the inside of the leg near the stomach.  The advantage of a tattoo is that it is very hard to remove.  The disadvantages, however, tend to outweigh the advantages.  First, it is uncomfortable for the dog to have a tattoo applied, so either the dog must be restrained or the tattoo must be done while the dog is anesthetized.  Tattoos do fade in time and may become illegible.  The biggest problem, however, is that there are no central registries for tattoos, so unless the person who finds the dog knows to call all the available tattoo registries, they cannot find the owner of the dog.

Microchips are more permanent than tags but less so than tattoos.  The small chip is inserted under the skin between the dog’s shoulder blades by a veterinarian.  Muscle grows to the chip, fixing it in place.  When a scanner is slide over the chip, the number is displayed.  The individual then calls the registry, tells them the number, and the owner is notified to collect the dog.

At first, there were many competing microchip manufacturers and the different scanners could only read the chips made by that company.  Scanners were not common and the general public was not aware of the need for scanning a found pet.  Now, most veterinarians and animal shelters have scanners and most scanners can read all the types of chips made.  However, the pet must still be taken to a veterinarian or animal shelter to be scanned.  In addition, microchips do occasionally migrate from the site of the chip insertion and can be removed, albeit with difficulty.

Most microchip companies now offer a tag that can go on the collar with the dog’s microchip number so anyone finding the dog can call and report it without having to have the dog scanned.  Of the three options available, microchips combined with a collar tag offer the best combination of permanence and ease of use.  The risk of complications is low and most veterinarians and shelters now have scanners and will scan a dog for free.