Microchip Monday: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About External Pet ID

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Pet ID tags seem pretty simple, right?  You put one on your pet’s collar, and it’s a great way of getting your lost pet returned safely home as soon as possible.

Well, here’s the catch: you actually have to put the tag on your pet.  Believe it or not, in a study done by the ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), a vet clinic handed out free tags to their clients; when the clinic followed up with them 6-8 weeks later, they found that some of them still hadn’t put the tag on their pet (and weren’t ever planning to)!  In fact, while 80 percent of pet owners claim it is important for pets to wear ID tags, only 33 percent said they always have ID tags on their pets.

Dr. Emily Weiss’ article titled “Frequency of Lost Dogs and Cats in the United States and the Methods Used to Locate Them” also did a case study of lost pets, which found that only 67 out of 110 lost dogs were wearing ID tags, and 15 dogs (out of the 101 that were recovered) were found through their tag.  Worse, only 18 out of 74 lost cats were wearing tags, and 1 cat (out of the 55 that were recovered) was found through its tag.

orange and white mixed breed dog

This dog escaped through an unlatched fence near our office while her owner was at work. We were able to leash her, read her ID tag and call her owner who arrived very panicked and thankful. We were able to safely reunite her with her owner in under an hour thanks to an ID tag.  If she wasn’t wearing a tag, it’s possible her owner may have never seen her again.

These types of statistics make you wonder: would pet reunification numbers improve if more dogs and cats wore ID tags at all times?  (Hint: the answer is yes.)  Since an ID tag is visible to the finder, it is the pet’s first line of defense, and is usually the quickest way the pet makes it back home.  Simply put, it would be a valuable approach to reuniting more lost pets with their owners.  But beyond even these obvious reasons, you might be surprised at the different things that an ID tag can (and can’t!) accomplish.  Get ready to pick up some new facts about ID tags, starting with #1 below …

1. Think your pet doesn’t need an ID tag? Think again.  If you’re a responsible pet owner, your pet is probably licensed in the city you live in and wears a little silver license tag on his/her collar.  Good job!  But wait – does this mean your pet still needs a separate ID tag?  Yes!  Even if your pet already wears a license tag,  you still need an ID tag that at least lists your pet’s name and a phone number.  Trust us, the ID tag will get your pet home faster than the license tag will.

And if you own a cat – this one’s especially for you. Many cat owners don’t think they need a tag, since their cat is “indoors only” and “won’t roam far.”  We say: you never know might happen, so putting a tag on your cat may be the best decision you make.

If I'm outside I'm lost cat tag

These tags are a great idea if you have an indoor only cat.

2. There may be certain things you DON’T want on your pet’s tag.  Anybody can see your pet’s ID tag, so it’s probably not a good idea to put your home address on it (or anything that you would consider “private information”), in case it falls into the wrong hands.  Even more surprisingly, you may not want to put your pet’s microchip number on the tag.  Why?  While it’s helpful when someone wants to return your found pet, it also makes it easy for someone who wants to steal your pet and register the microchip number under their name.  Remember, anyone can register any brand of microchip in any U.S. registry, and, unfortunately, U.S. registries are not required to share information.  So, even if you have your pet’s microchip registered in one registry, it is still possible for anyone to register the same number in any other registry that exists out there.

3. There are several things that your pet’s tag can’t do.  For example, your pet’s ID tag is not a cat or dog GPS.  You cannot “locate” your pet through the tag.  It is also not a QR code.  Unless the tag includes a barcode of some sort, you cannot scan it to pull up owner information.  Lastly, it is not a form of permanent ID, such as a microchip.  Tags can fall off and are easily removed.  A registered microchip is the best backup in case this happens, since it is permanently imbedded in your pet’s skin, and will link to your contact information if searched in a database.

4. Tags can be made of any material. Metal? Psh, that’s old news.  There are so many different styles of tags nowadays, including rubber ones (if you want something a little quieter), ones made out of a reflective material (to make the pet more visible at night) and even ones that light up (just for fun).  You can also attach a bell to your pet’s ID tag or collar so that it jingles and makes their location easier to pinpoint in the house or around the neighborhood.

5. External pet ID isn’t just limited to tags. There are many ways to identify a pet, and an ID tag is just one of them.  You can also put a customized collar (or leash) on your pet, with his/her name on it.  There are special vests that are specific for guide dogs and dogs-in-training.  Or if your dog is sensitive and in need of space in public, you can simply tie a yellow ribbon around his/her neck, collar or leash, and for those who have heard of the yellow ribbon campaign, they’ll know to give your pet plenty of respectful space when passing by.

The yellow ribbon project poster

What is your favorite form of external pet ID? Any other ideas that you don’t see on the list? Leave a comment in the comments section below.

12 Responses

  1. NikkiP says:

    In the UK, the law obliges you to tag your dog when the dog is in a public place. The tag must (by law) have your name, and your address. Most people put their initial and surname, followed by house number and postcode. They usually include a landline and a cellphone number. It is not a good idea to put the dog’s name on the tag.

    QR code tags are pointless – it’s like firing up a space shuttle to visit the corner shop. See what one of the UK’s best-know tag maker says about them:

  2. jim says:

    I agree with Kathy, we’ve always included both the rabies tag, with our own locator tag, for the reason she stated. I thought it was required by law in our area. Actually, I was surprised that people pet aware enough to be here didn’t all do that, so thumbs up for Kathy’s tip.

  3. Sharon says:

    I really appreciate this information and I share it with my members in a dog club. I will be looking forward to reading more next week. That yellow bandana is a great idea but it needs to be laminated to hand out for strangers. They may not know the rules. I didn’t. Thanks again.

  4. Kathy says:

    I’ve worked with animal control officers and stray animal intake shelter staff. I have to say that the most important life saving tag on your pet is the rabies tag. If your pet has bitten anyone it will be killed to check for rabies not even quarantined. Do not rely on anyone to be trained in safe animal handling. The chip scanners are rarely used properly so will not pick up the chip. Your normally sweet pet will bite if frightened. I have personally rescued cats who were deemed feral and vicious. They were actually microchipped and I was able to find the owners.

    • Annie M says:

      Thank you for the very important tip Kathy! I have never heard this before and personally, don’t know anyone who puts the rabies tag on the collar. Let’s everybody spread the word about this!

  5. CharleneSlocum says:

    My cat got out yesterday, and it was really scary, because she did not have her collar with ID on.. There was a good reason for that, and not enough space to explain it, but thankfully I got her back. So even if your cat is an indoor cat, and you don’t think she/he can possibly get out–she CAN, so be prepared. Don’t take chances. My cat now has her collar and ID on, even tho she has a micro chip.

  6. Colleen Edgington says:

    I have several means by which someone can locate me if either one of my beloved dogs should get lost.
    I have tags on their collars all the time. The tags have my name, 2 phone #s, and says that the dog has a microchip.
    They both are micro chipped and are registered. I have had them scanned at the vet’s office and verified that the chip is registered properly. Both dogs are licensed. Please do whatever you can do for your pet before it gets lost because trying to do this after the fact provides little benefit.

  7. Cathy says:

    Great article. I don’t like the bell on a collar though as it can also make it hard for a cat to hide from a predator.

    • Kat says:

      The purpose of the bell is to prevent cats from killing native birds and other small animals. If you don’t want your cat to be targeted by a predator than the cat should indoors or enclosed in a fenced/covered “catio” that is attached to your house. Outdoor and feral cats kill an estimated 1 billion birds per year.

  8. Bruce MacAllister says:

    I always enjoy the articles here. Thank you for taking the time to write them!

  9. I always enjoy the articles here. Thank you for taking the time!