Identification Keeps Your Pet Safe

The heartbreak of a missing dog is a worry pet owners share. It's best to think the unthinkable and do everything we can to provide proper identification for our dogs in the event they are lost.

A good dog collar with an ID tag is the first line of defense. However, a collar can break or be pulled off. In addition to a collar, our dogs should have permanent identification.

For many years tattooing has provided this identification. Vibrator tattoos used with dogs are similar to those used to tattoo humans. Tattoo inks or pastes contain insoluble pigments that will not react with blood or tissues. Black ink is commonly used on light-skinned animals. Green ink is visible on both light and dark skin.

The ear is generally the most satisfactory place for a tattoo, but dogs who will later have their ears cropped or adult dogs who object to the noise of the vibrator should probably be tattooed on the flank.

A tattoo must be registered with a tattoo registry. Each registry has its own coding system and its own fee schedule. Your veterinarian, local breed clubs, humane societies and animal shelters can give you information about these registries.

However, tattoos have their drawbacks. The pet finder must look for the tattoo and understand the information. Tattoos can be obscured by hair or even altered.

New technology has led to the computer microchip ID for individual dogs. The microchip is about the size of a grain of rice encapsulated within a biocompatible material so it can reside safely under the skin for the lifetime of a dog.

The microchipping must be done by a licensed veterinarian who implants the microchip under the skin between the shoulders of the dog. Dogs can be implanted as young as eight weeks of age. The procedure is not painful. It has been compared to vaccinating a dog. Once implanted, a microchip requires no batteries and no further attention. It has a life span of 25 years. The dog's microchip number cannot be lost, altered or intentionally removed. It is entered into and controlled by a central microchip agency. Your veterinarian or humane society can give you information about microchip registries. As with tattoos, each registry has its own fee and coding system. Changes in dog ownership are easily updated in the registry's data base.

To identify a dog with a microchip implant, veterinarians or personnel at humane societies, shelters and some local breed clubs equipped with hand-held scanners simply pass the scanner over the dog's shoulder and the number is displayed on the scanner.

The limitation of the microchip implant concerns the person who finds the lost or stolen dog. The person must be knowledgeable enough to assume that perhaps the dog has a microchip implant and take the dog to a veterinarian or shelter equipped with a scanner.

Microchips do not replace the need for the traditional ID tag. But for positive, unalterable identification of a dog, microchip identification is the answer.

Along with a permanent ID and an ID tag for your dog, protect it by taking care of it. Never allow it to run free which can expose it to the danger of traffic accidents, attacks from other dogs, theft and the threat of abuse. Most communities have leash laws and the penalties can become severe for a dog who is allowed to roam continuously. Neutering or spaying a dog removes a basic motivation for roaming.

Providing "all the comforts of home" also helps keep a dog safely at home. These comforts include a clean, comfortable environment and proper nutrition together with walks and activities with family members.

A final thought: Cats can also be microchipped and registry procedures are the same as for dogs. Real progress has been made in providing permanent identification for the pets we love.

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