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Microchips, Tattoos and Tags

Most of you have seen lost dog flyers attached to telephone poles or on community bulletin boards in your neighborhood shops. Losing a dog is a terrible experience and not knowing whether your dog is dead or alive can devastate an owner. Theft of purebred dogs has also dramatically increased in the last two decades particularly of less common, more valuable breeds. Scam artists will steal a dog and then wait until the owner posts a reward. Several studies have shown that less than 70% of dogs that are lost or stolen ever find their way back home. Common sense precautions can greatly diminish your chances of losing your dog. Spayed and neutered dogs are much less likely to stray. Leash control of your dog is mandatory as more than half of dogs that are lost are reported to have been walking outside unleashed. There are many attractions outside that a dog may chase and become lost. Dogs have a keen sense of smell and investigating an enticing aroma can lead a dog away from home. Remember dogs are not homing pigeons and once they are away from familiar surroundings become quite disoriented and stray further. More than 30% of dogs that are recovered are found greater than 10 miles from their home. Fences and buried electronic fencing are important aspects of loss prevention but are far from perfect. The new buried electronic "fences" may not deter your dog from leaving your property if it sees an attractive object across the fence line. Even a responsible dog owner may lose a dog due to circumstances beyond their control i.e. an unlatched backyard gate or a child opening the front door and allowing the dog to escape.

If your dog is lost or stolen, it will be nearly impossible for others to identify your dog and help him find his way home without proper identification. A recent study showed that over 50% of recovered dogs were returned to their owners due to identification found on the dog. There are three common ways of identifying your dog–identification tags (nonpermanent), tattoos (permanent), and microchips (permanent). Each method has unique benefits as well as disadvantages. Permanent identification is currently required for certain pre-breeding health tests such as OFA and Optigen.

Identification Tags
An identification tag attached to your dog's collar is the most common method. The information on the tag should include your dog's name, and at a minimum your current phone number. Current rabies tags also carry a unique number and if your dog is lost in your local area may be helpful in recovering your pet. If your dog is registered with a pet recovery service such as the AKC's Companion Animal Recovery Service (AKC-CAR) you will receive a special tag that lists the 24-hour a day/ /365 day a year hotline. The advantages of ID tags are that they are inexpensive and simple to revise if your personal information changes or replace if they are lost or damaged. One of the problems with tags is that if you are traveling and your dog becomes lost there is no way to contact you unless your cell phone number is on the tag. However the major problem with tags is if your dog is stolen the first thing the thief will do is discard the collar and tag.

The earliest manner of permanently identifying dogs was the tattoo. The National Dog Registry (NDR) was founded in 1966 to maintain a database and call center for tattooed pets. NDR pioneered the use of tattoo registration as a protection against loss and theft. Many owners do not tattoo their pets because they confuse painful human tattooing with canine tattooing. Human skin is distinctly different than a dog's. The dog has a very thin epidermis and a simple vibrating probe will deposit the ink in the dermis with no pain. The whole procedure takes two to three minutes and can be done by a technician. Puppies as young as six weeks can be tattooed. Most owners of purebred dogs use the AKC registration number that is unique. When the NDR was started most owners used their Social Security numbers that is also unique but if you have multiple dogs in your household this may not be practical. Once your dog is tattooed the number should be registered with the NDR (1-800-NDR-DOGS) or TATOO-A-PET™ (1-800-TATTOOS). The cost is $45 (NDR) or $35 (TATOO-A-PET) for the life of the dog. Many humane societies, Dogs for the Deaf, and vet schools use tattooing as identification. The benefit of tattooing is that all shelters, veterinary clinics, animal control authorities, and animal laboratories check the inner thigh area for an identifying tattoo. No high tech devices are required to identify the dog. Shelters will not euthanize a tattooed animal without exhausting attempts to contact the owner. The disadvantage is that hair may grow over the area of tattoo and the dog may need to be shaved to see the full number and shaving may be difficult if the dog in a shelter is frightened by the strange surroundings. Tattoos may blur with age as the pigment disperses in the dermis. It is also becoming more difficult to find a certified canine tattooist. If you are considering tattooing your dog contact your local hunting dog clubs as the tattoo is still considered the best means of identifying similar dogs in the field and most hunting clubs know of qualified local tattooist.

Microchips are tiny electronic (passive emission RFID) devices that can be imbedded under a dog's skin usually between the shoulder blades high on the back. The microchip has a permanent unique number that shows up on handheld scanner when the appropriate radiofrequency is used to interrogate it. The chip is tiny about the size of a grain of rice (12-22mm). The chip is constructed in a way that tends to prevent migration from the injection site. It must be inserted by your veterinarian but does not require anesthesia. We have had chips placed without problems in eight-week old puppies. A chip provides positive and reliable identification for your pet and all modern shelters scan animals for this identifying device. These chips have been used in the US since 1985 and have been reengineered over time to improve them. Unfortunately several competing brands of proprietary microchips are available in the US. These competing chips use four different frequencies 125 kHz, 125 kHz (encrypted), 128 kHz, or 134.2 kHz (International Standard Organization ISO). One manufacturer AVID (American Veterinary Information Devices) who originated the pet microchip in the US and holds many of the original patents began using a proprietary encrypted chip in 2005. This type of chip may not be readable by the "universal scanners" some shelters use. Because of this lack of standardization Congress in November 2005 directed the Department of Agriculture to study and recommend a solution to these incompatible microchip technologies for pets. (Because of "mad cow disease" livestock such as cattle and bison have been mandated under the National Animal Identification System by the USDA to have permanent identification ISO-RFID 134.2 kHz by January 1, 2009) After studying the situation for more than a year the USDA determined that it "lacked the authority under the federal Animal Welfare Act to mandate a single national standard for microchips or microchip scanners for privately-owned pets" (July 30, 2007). This leaves American pet owners with no standardized microchip while the European Union, Canada and Japan have standardized on the ISO 134.2 kHz chip. Because of this if you want to travel with your pet outside the US you may need to insert a second 134.2 kHz chip. If you have a choice, we like the HomeAgain™ or AKC Trovan™ microchips and avoid the AVID microchip because of the company's intransigence in supporting an open microchip standard as well as the multiple lawsuits against other chip manufacturers that they have initiated. The HomeAgain™ microchip (125 kHz) is distributed by Schering-Plough Animal Health. In 2005 Schering Plough severed its relationship with AKC and has maintained its own database. HomeAgain™ has a website that allows you to search for a veterinarian that implants their chip by zip code. In 2007 the AKC began distributing the German made Trovan™ microchip (128 kHz). The American Kennel Club maintains a nationwide database (AKC-CAR) of their CAR lost recovery tags, microchip numbers as well as tattoos. The AKC data center has human operators available 24 hours a day/365 days a year. The cost is $12.50 for this lifetime service. You can call (800) 234-6373 to find a vet near you who offers the AKC Trovan™ product. When a lost dog is found, any organization having a "universal" scanner, which includes many veterinarians, animal control centers, and research labs, can scan the chip and identify the owner of the dog quickly. Please remember that besides having a microchip inserted in your dog you must register the number with the appropriate registry and you must change your information if you move or change phone numbers. We strongly urge all PWD owners microchip their pets particularly with the increased awareness of the breed by the public.

Other Methods of Identification
Nose prints are as unique in dogs as fingerprints in humans. Canada since 1938 has required nose prints for all dogs shown in conformation. However it is not a practical technique for shelters. Dognose ID provides an inkless kit for taking your dog's nose print and maintains a national database in the United States. The one time cost is $24.95. The database includes the nose print of your dog as well as a photo. This data is electronically transmitted or faxed to all animal shelters in the area where the dog was reported to be lost.
The AKC requires DNA profiles for frequently used sires, imported breeding stock, and all sires collected for fresh chilled semen or frozen semen. This DNA profile is a unique genotype of the individual dog but again is not practical for loss recovery but can prove the identity of a dog if two different "owners" are attempting to claim the same dog.

New Technology
The latest technological advance is a combination canine GPS/cellular locator. This device is available from the AKC CAR or and is expensive. The locator is attached to your dog's flat collar and costs nearly $250 plus a $8-20 sliding scale monthly fee to maintain the web-based locating service and the Sprint cellular service that transmits the location. You can think of this system as a LoJack system for dogs. The disadvantages beside the expense include the need to recharge the battery every two weeks, the bulkiness of the device, the lack of Sprint wireless service in rural areas and if your dog is stolen, the thief will remove this external device. However if you have a dog that is an "escape artist" you might consider this.

Created May 2008
Modified July 7, 2010