Even with the most careful and responsible owners, pets can sometimes go missing or be stolen. So it’s vital that all pets carry identification which can help return them to their owners, whether it’s in the form of an old-fashioned tag or the more high-tech microchip.
In the UK, it is a legal requirement for all dogs to wear a collar and tag and this is certainly recommended for cats as well, particularly with the feline tendency to roam over a large territory. The tag is usually a disc, engraved with the pet’s details, such as name, home address and owner’s contact number. Nowadays, with the trend towards pet fashion accessories, tags can come in all sorts of wonderful shapes and styles and be more than just an identification tool.
While this traditional method has been very successful, there can be some problems with reliability, such as if the tag is broken or lost or if the pet slips its collar. Also, some people are uncomfortable with the idea of having so much personal information on a pet tag, accessible by any member of the public – for example, dog-thieves easily finding out where your dog lives.
One way around this is to have your details registered with a pet identification database and to have your pet wear a special tag with their unique ID number. The advantage is that this kind of service is available round-the-clock, 365 days per year and their database can hold any amount of contact information, including relatives’ details or holiday telephone numbers. You may even have the added option of Vetalert, where your pet’s medical information (eg. allergies, medication needs) can be recorded and accessed by any vet treating him in an emergency.
Nowadays, most pet owners have embraced a more high-tech form of identification: the microchip. The chip – which carries an identification number unique to each dog – is held inside a tiny glass vial, about the size of a rice grain, which is implanted under the skin on the back of a dog’s neck. This is usually done by your vet as a quick, painless injection. Anyone with a scanner should then be able to read the chip and access the owner’s details from a central database.
The great advantage of the microchip is that it acts as a permanent form of identification, which, unlike a collar and tag, cannot be broken or lost – in theory. It also provides a means of identification for pets which cannot wear a traditional collar and tag; for example, since its launch in 1995, Petlog – the microchip database administered by the Kennel Club – has registered birds and ferrets to tortoises, ostriches and even an elephant! It estimates that about 86 percent of microchipped animals are reunited with their owners if they become lost.
Hunt the Chip
However, like all technologies, microchips are not infallible. There have been several recorded incidences where chips have ‘migrated’ in the animal’s body, resulting in difficulty scanning for a number or when chips have disappeared altogether, failing to be located even after extensive X-rays. Not only is this worrying for an owner relying on the microchip to ‘reunite’ a lost pet but it also raises problems under the new Pet Passport Travel Scheme where dogs leaving Britain on holiday have to be scanned and identified before they are allowed back into the country.
Successful microchip identification, together with documentation of flea & tick treatment and blood-tests for rabies, means that a dog can re-enter Britain without having to undergo a 6-month quarantine. However, reliance on the microchip can be risky: when one dog was recently scanned on entry to Britain, no microchip was found – although chip had been read successfully in Italy on the morning of travel. After 12 X-rays, the microchip was still missing and the dog was forced to suffer several months’ quarantine. Microchip manufacturers maintain, however, that incidents of failure are so few, it is nothing for pet owners to be concerned about.
Another drawback of microchips is that they do not prove ownership of the dog. Thus, if your dog is stolen – even if it is scanned and its microchip identified with your details – you could still face a long legal battle to prove that you are the dog’s rightful owner. In addition, anyone who picks up your dog can have it chipped, without having to prove ownership.
Ultimately, owners need to be realistic about identification tools, whatever type they choose. It is an excellent idea to micro-chip your dog, as a back-up, in conjunction with a collar and ID tag but owners should do their best to keep their pets safe and not rely on anything as an automatic “return to sender” device.