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The Three Lines of Pet Identification

Nearly 1 out of every 3 pets will get lost at some point during their lifetime without proper identification and 90% of lost pets never return home.  Pet identification dramatically increases the chances that your lost pet will be returned home.

In veterinary practice, we often are asked the question, "I have an indoor only pet, why do I need identification?"

No one expects their pet to get lost.  Even when you take precautions, accidents can happen - The door or window gets left open, natural disaster, etc.  Providing your pet with proper identification is the most important precaution you can take to maximize your chances of being reunited with a lost pet.

Your three lines of defense are: an ID tag, a license from your local animal control/veterinarian/jurisdiction and a microchip.

What is an ID tag?  A plastic or metal tag that goes on your pets collar with their name and the owner's information such as a telephone number and address.  Collars can be embroidered with a name and phone number or have a plate attached that includes this information.  So if you prefer not to have a collar hanging from your pet's collar, this is an alternative option.

What is a license?  A pet license is proof that your pet has been vaccinated against rabies and is registered with the jurisdiction where you reside.  Generally a small metallic or plastic tag goes on your pet's collar and should be kept there at all times.  Licensing requirements, procedures, and fees differ between jurisdictions.

What is a microchip?  A microchip is a device implanted beneath the animal's skin by a veterinarian which contains a unique series of characters used to identify the animal if it is lost.

In 2007, The Journal of the American Veterinary Assoication reported that most lost dogs and cats were not wearing tags at the time they disappeared.  Fewer than half of the lost dogs and just one in five of the lost cats were wearing tags at the time they went missing, according to the journal.

There are several reasons that people tend to not want to put a collar on their pets.  Some cat owners worry that collars pose a risk.  The fear is that adventurous cats may snag the collar and choke.  The truth is, the chance of a cat becoming injured from a propertly fitting collar is far smaller than the risk of them getting lost.

"One of the reasons cats have a hard time with collars is that we don't put them on," said Dr. Weiss, Vice President of Shelter Research and Development for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  "We start dogs off young, but cats never have the opportunity to get used to them, so when we finally do put them on, they fuss."  Dr. Weiss said cat owners often give up on collars too quickly.  "The majority of people who did not successfully keep a collar on their cat, it looks like they take it off in about a day," she said.  "The cat doesn't take it off.  The owner removes it themselves."  Dr. Weiss said the results of the collar intervention study shows the most pet owners will keep ID tags and collars on their animals, but that the rate of tagging can be increased if vets and shelters make it more convenient.

"Having a microchip is a great safety measure for emergencies or if the pet loses a tag or collar," she said.  "But an ID tag is the simplest, easiest way to assure your pet is going to get home."

In summary, it is best to implement three lines of pet identification with your pets:  an ID tag, and license and a microchip.  All three of these increase the chances that if your pet gets lost, he or she will be properly identified and returned home to you.

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