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Every year millions of pets become lost with only 2% of cats and 15-20% of dogs ever finding their way back home. They find their way home because their owners have provided them with identification. Whether it is a microchip, a simple collar with tags, a tattoo, or a high-tech GPS collar the identification given to these companion animals greatly increases the likelihood of lost animals being returned home.

Identification Options
There are several options for owners seeking to provide their pets with identification: Microchips, Collar and Tags, Tattoos, and GPS Collars. Each identification method has benefits and drawbacks, so let’s examine each of them so you can decide which is best for you and your furry friend.

Microchips are a reliable and increasingly popular identification option. A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is embedded in the pet’s skin, usually in between the shoulders, through an injection. The microchip contains information on the pet’s owner and is stored in a database. The microchip emits a radio frequency that can be read using a hand-held scanner. Microchips are extremely reliable. They do not get lost and they are made to last for twenty-five years or more. However, not all microchips use the same radio frequency; therefore, your pet’s microchip might not be able to be read by all scanners. Most shelters have the ability to read multiple microchip frequencies, but it might be something you look into before deciding on which microchip to use. Another drawback to the microchip is that in order for the chip to be read, the pet must be taken to a scanner. If your pet is taken into someone’s home, and not taken to a veterinarian or a shelter, the information on the microchip would never be found. Microchips are fairly inexpensive and many shelters offer discounts or free microchipping when pets are adopted. Microchipping is usually offered as part of a new pet’s initial veterinary examination. Remember, a microchip is not only for expensive or purebred animals; it is an investment to insure the love you have for one another.

Collar and Tags
Collars and tags are the “old-fashioned” identification option and provide an instant visual source of identification. A walk down the collar aisle at any pet store will demonstrate that there are an infinite number of style options for pet collars. The same goes for tag options. So whether your pet wears a designer diamond-studded collar with a sterling silver tag or a simple nylon collar with an aluminum tag the most important features of your pet’s collar and tag is safety and information the tag carries. The collar should fit snugly, but not be too tight. You should be able to slide two fingers between the collar and your pet’s neck. If you can’t fit two fingers in, the collar is too tight. If you can fit more than two fingers in, the collar is too loose. For cats, living indoors is best, but a collar and tag should always be on just in case he slips out an open door or window. Breakaway collars are always a good idea, so your cat won’t be strangled if their collar gets caught on a fence or on furniture.

Tags should contain your pet’s name and up-to-date information for contacting you. If you travel a great deal with your pet, it is best to include your cell phone number on the tag. Including your animal’s rabies tag and license on his collar is also a great idea. Not only is it law in many states, but your pet’s rabies tag also contains a great deal of information that can help get your pet home. Many pet stores offer instant do-it-yourself tags through vending machines in the store. There are also companies that will make tags and ship them to your home through mail order or Internet sales. Some higher-tech tags even include USB drives that attach to your pet’s collar and can contain all the information needed for you and your pet.

Collars and tags do require a bit of maintenance and they must be replaced when they become worn. A worn collar may fall off after your pet gets lost and the vital information for getting your pet home will be lost too. Tags also get worn and eventually the engraving will become unreadable. Also, as your contact information changes, remember to update your pet’s tags. These simple steps will ensure that you and your pet will be reunited quickly.

Tattoos may strike some people as a barbaric method of identification, but they can be an effective, albeit less popular identification option. Tattoos are often applied when an animal is very young and the tattoo usually consists of a series of numbers. The numbers usually correspond to an animal’s registration papers when that animal is purchased from a breeder. Tattoos can be placed inside the ear, or on the tummy or inner thigh. Tattoos are a good way to permanently mark your animal to identify him. However, the tattoos can fade over time or be hidden by the animal’s fur.

High-Tech GPS Collars
The latest in pet identification is the GPS collar. This is by far the most expensive option, but as the technology improves, we expect prices to go down. The GPS collar can also be a little bulky compared to more simple collars, but again time will improve the technology and these gadgets will become smaller and less unwieldy. GPS collars are the only way to geo-locate your pet after they have been lost. With the microchip, collar and tag, and tattoo options, your pet has to be located by someone before you have a hope of being reunited. It is a passive and reactive approach that can leave a pet owner distraught when they have lost their loved pet and they have to rely on someone else to find them. The GPS collar offers pet owners a real-time look at where their pet is located. The GPS collar does require the owner to maintain a monthly subscription in order to use the tracking service and using this service requires a computer. So when the cost of the collar, the set-up charge, and the monthly service fees are added up, the GPS collar might be cost-prohibitive for many pet owners, but this is definitely a reliable, accurate method to find a lost pet.

Choosing an Identification Option
Choose an option: Any option! No matter what identification option you choose for your pet, you are helping to increase the likelihood that a lost pet will find its way home again. Each option has benefits and drawbacks, which usually impact the reliability of the identification method. For this reason, some pet owners choose to practice the tried and true method applied by many in the science and aerospace fields: Redundancy. By combining a visual identification method with microchipping, a pet owner is further increasing the chances that a lost pet will be found. Pet owners should consider keeping a collar and tags on a microchipped pet for the best results.

By Charlene Sloan