By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 14 January 2011)
Most lost pets are never found because their owners have no way to track them, and those who take them in have no way of identifying them. There are four ways to increase the likelihood of getting lost pets back: collars with traditional ID, GPS and RFID devices, tattoos, and microchips.
Collars with ID for Cats and Dogs
Traditional collars with identification tags have two primary advantages: They’re easy to acquire and inexpensive. However, they also have a number of disadvantages:
- Many pets dislike wearing collars and are able to remove them.
- Collars may get snagged on things, pulled off, and lost.
- A collar that doesn’t break away easily may choke an animal if it becomes entangled on something.
- Pet thieves can easily remove a collar.
Overall, collars are a good budget-conscious option, but using engraved metal ID tags is recommended, as handwritten ID tags encased in plastic are more likely to become illegible when rained on or chewed.
RFID and GPS for Cats and Dogs
Global Positioning System (GPS) devices locate pets by using satellites to identify their positions and then conveying this information to owners via cell phones or the Internet. There are also radio frequency identification (RFID) products such as the LoCATor Pet Tracking System. These technologies have a number of advantages:
- GPS and RFID devices can help find pets fast by providing real-time location information.
- Devices can be attached to a pet’s collar.
- Some devices allow for the creation of GPS fences that notify owners when their pets stray out of the designated area.
Tracking devices also have a number of disadvantages:
- Many GPS devices are heavy and bulky, making them unsuitable for smaller pets (there are a few smaller devices on the market, such as the Cat GPS Tracking Device available from UK-based Microchip Cat Flaps Ltd.).
- Some landscape features may interfere with signals.
- Batteries must be recharged regularly.
- GPS and RFID collars are subject to many of the same problems as regular collars, including the risk of getting caught on something and the ease with which thieves can remove them.
- Technological solutions are expensive, ranging from $50 to $500+, and in addition to the initial purchase price, there are monthly service fees for some devices.
- Some trackers have a relatively short range from home base to receiver (typically 1-7 miles), although this usually isn’t a problem as most lost pets are found relatively close to home.
Pets outfitted with GPS or RFID collars should also have a form of identification such as a tattoo.
Tattoos for Cats and Dogs
With tattooing, the animal is assigned a unique number that remains on file with a registry organization. Tattoos, which are usually done on the ear, belly, or inner thigh, have several advantages:
- They are visible, so anyone finding the animal knows that it’s someone’s pet.
- Tattoos don’t require scanning for identification purposes.
- Pet thieves are less likely to steal tattooed pets either to keep for themselves or sell to laboratories for experimentation because many regions impose fines or jail time for theft of tattooed pets.
- A tattoo can prove ownership in the case of a dispute.
Tattoos also have several disadvantages:
- Tattooing requires sedation, which carries a minor degree of risk (although the procedure takes little time and can be combined with spay/neuter surgery).
- Tattoos may fade or blur over time and need refreshing.
- A thief who really wants to keep a valuable purebred animal may alter the tattoo.
Microchips for Cats and Dogs
Microchipping is a quick and easy procedure that involves implanting a chip approximately the size of a rice grain under the animal’s skin at the back of the neck. Veterinary clinics and animal shelters can then use scanners to identify a lost animal and contact the company with which the chip is registered, after which the company contacts the owner. The cost of the procedure varies widely from one provider to the next, but is typically less than $50. Microchips have the following advantages:
- They are permanent.
- They significantly increase the likelihood of getting a pet back if it’s brought to a shelter (a study of 53 shelters found that microchipped pets were reunited with their owners approximately 75% of the time, a rate 20 times higher than non-microchipped cats and 2.5 times higher than dogs without microchips).
- Microchips can prove ownership in the case of disputes.
- They can be inserted with a specialized hypodermic syringe without anaesthesia and the procedure is no more painful for the animal than receiving a vaccination.
- Microchips don’t disfigure like tattoos.
Microchips also have a number of disadvantages:
- They can trigger an infection at the implantation site.
- Some shelters may not scan chips because their scanners aren’t working or they’re too busy.
- Many people who find lost pets may not know about microchipping and won’t bring the animal to a veterinarian or shelter for scanning (for this reason, having additional ID such as a collar with a tag or a tattoo is beneficial).
- Microchips don’t deter pet theft because they’re not visible.
- Some studies indicate that there may be a slight increase in cancer risk at the injection site.
- Microchips can migrate after implantation, causing health problems (this is relatively rare with modern microchips).
Some sources assert that microchips are dangerous in Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) medical scanners. However, during an episode of Mythbusters, Kari Byron of the Mythbusters team had a chip implanted in her arm and underwent an MRI scan with no ill effects.
- Canadian Kennel Club. (n.d.). “CANADAChip Recovery.” CKC.ca.
- Discovery Channel. (n.d.). “Myth: Will Your RFID Implant Explode During an MRI?” DSC.Discovery.com.
- DVM News Magazine. (14 October 2009). “ Microchipped Pets Returned Home Three Out of Four Times.” DVM360.com.
- Lewan T. (8 September 2007). “Chip Implants Linked to Animal Tumors.” WashingtonPost.com.
- Norgate Animal Hospital. (2011). “ Pet Microchip or Tattoo.” NorgateVets.ca.
- Tattoo-a-Pet International. (2010). “ Tattoo vs. Microchip.” Tattoo-a-Pet.com.
- The-Portable-GPS.com. (2009). “Find Your Pet with GPS Tracking.”
- Van Hooijdonk, A. (n.d.). “GPS Pet Tracking Devices.” GPS-Practice-and-Fun.com.