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Pet Identification Options

Both dogs and cats need identification. Even indoor cats need ID - accidents can happen even with the very best pet owners, and any pet can slip out the door before you can stop them. There are several options that can help bring your pets home safely in the event they become lost.

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Here are several common choices for pet ID. A combination of them is best just in case one form of ID fails.

  • License tag. Municipalities usually have bylaws that require pets to be licensed. Although in the past it's mostly applied to just dogs, the licensing of cats is becoming more common. A license tag is purchased from the municipality who assigns a number to your pet. A tag is attached to the pet's collar. If the pet is found, the animal control officer can check the tag number, pull up your conatct information, and call you to let you know they have your pet.

    The disadvantages to using a tag are: the tag can fall off and get lost; the information on the tag may become unreadable; and the ID won't do any good if your pet slips out of its collar.

  • Tattoo. Tattoos are commonly etched into one of your pet's ears during spay/neuter surgery (pets must be under anesthetic for this procedure). Tattoos are a visible and somewhat permanent method of identification.

    Unlike tags, tattoos are not reliant on your pet wearing its collar. However, tattoos usually fade over time, making them illegible. They can be retraced, but since pets must be under anesthetic and there is always a risk with anesthesia, retracing a tattoo should be done at the same time your pet is undergoing another procedure anyways.

    Tattoos are commonly placed inside of an ear or on the inside of the pet's thigh. This makes it more difficult to read, particularly if the pet is uncooperative about allowing someone to handle him.

  • Microchip. A microchip is a small, electronic chip (approximately the size of a grain of rice) that is implanted just under your pet's skin. It is administered quickly by injection.

    Microchips each have an identification number associated with them. Along with this ID number, your name, address, and phone number are entered into a computer database. If your pet gets lost, animal shelters or city pounds can use a scanner to locate your pet's chip along with the corresponding contact information (make sure you keep your information up-to-date!). Microchips have re-united many a lost pet with their grateful owners... sometimes even years later!

  • Basic identification tag. It's not necessary to rely on municipal tags; if you would like your pet to have a simple tag with his or her name and your contact phone numbers, you can get them done pretty much anywhere! Some pet supply stores have machines in-store where you can create your own. Stainless steel ID tags are a durable option.

    The disadvantages of an ID tag are the same as a municipal license tag: the tag might fall off or become unreadable, and they're only helpful if your pet is still wearing his or her collar.

  • Pet tracking or GPS collars. Pets wear a special collar which allows their owners to track them, commonly via a smartphone or with a special monitoring device. Owners are alerted when pets wander out of range, and should they become lost, these devices can make it easier to locate the pets.

    There are several potential downfalls to this technology. There have been complaints that the GPS isn't always accurate. If the system relies on internet access, it will be useless in remote areas or during times (such as natural disasters) when the cell network is down. Collars that rely on batteries also rely on the pet owners to remember to change the batteries. If the pet loses the collar then the system won't be able to locate them.

Regardless of what pet identification options you choose, try to use at least two of them. That way, if one method fails, the other is still there as a backup. Pets get lost for many reasons - they can escape out the door, lose their way or become separated from the owners while out on a walk, get confused and lost while traveling in a new place, or get 'spooked' by loud noises or unfamiliar people. Having up-to-date identification greatly increases the odds of a happy reunion between a lost pet and his people.