Pet Identification

The primary pathway for a lost pet to return home is the identification that the pet carries. This blog is to discuss the various forms of pet identification and determine the benefit and weaknesses of each of them.

Pet License

Most jurisdictions require a pet to be licensed with an accompanying tag. Pet licensing helps defray the cost of animal control services in the community and provides confirmation that the pet is currently vaccinated for rabies. Most jurisdictions offer a reduced pet license fee for those pets that are spayed or neutered.

Cons: Most jurisdictions pick aluminum tags that do not stand up well to long-term use. If the license is issued for the duration of a 3-year rabies vaccination, the tag may not hold up for that period of time. Many jurisdictions don’t realize that people travel and consider the information on the tag for local use only. For example, I once got an animal in with a Jefferson County dog tag. The tag provided a telephone number to call, but fail to list an area code. There are a dozen different Jefferson Counties in the United States. The tag was practicably useless. Many pet owners will place a previous pet’s tag on their new pet.

Pros: If a current tag is placed on the correct pet, the tag indicates that the animal is currently vaccinated for rabies.

Cons: Aluminum tags do not hold up well.

Rabies Vaccination Tags

Many veterinarians provide a rabies tag when they vaccinated an animal for rabies. Like the pet tag, the rabies tag is usually made of aluminum.

Cons: Many veterinarians maintain poor records and the vaccination tag may not be traceable through the phone number on the tag.

Pros: Like with the pet tag, if the tag is current and on the correct pet, the tag is an indication of current rabies vaccination.


Microchips have become the standard in pet identification for animal shelters. Mainly because pet owners are really poor at keeping identification on their pets. Although few pets lose their microchip, it is a very poor form of identification.

Cons: Microchip companies never standardized the frequencies of microchips in the United States and as such, it is nearly impossible to find microchip scanners that will locate all of the chips offered for sale in the US. Those scanners that do scan for the various frequencies can only scan one frequency at a time and unless you are scanning the pet very slowly, you might pass over the microchip in a pet while it is scanning for the alternate frequency. Anyone working in an animal shelter knows the difficulty of scanning a factious. animal. Many domestic cats in a cat trap will appear feral to the person trapping the cats in his/her neighborhood. Microchips are implanted between the shoulder blades of the animal; however, those microchips may migrate through the animal. I found a microchip in a Great Dane that had traveled over three feet to the animal’s front left paw. Many animal shelter staff might not find a microchip that has traveled that far. Due to the high possibility of not finding a microchip in an animal, my shelter would scan an animal three times: at intake, during medical examination, and at disposition. It is surprising the number of times we found the chip while preparing the animal for euthanasia. As such, I consider the microchip as the identification of last resort. To further complicate the issue of finding a microchip, pet owners are very poor about keeping the contact information current. Many fail to register their microchip or purchase the microchip through their veterinarian, who fails to track microchip information. It is not uncommon for a pet to come in with a microchip tracked to a previous owner. The fact that there are news reports of an animal being found by its owner many years later is a testament to the weakness of microchips.

I have encountered people who believe that by having a microchip in their pet that it is unnecessary for them to have to look for their lost pet. These poor fools believe that their microchipped pet will magically return home. And that, my friend, is the main problem with microchips. We inadvertency make them available to idiots.

Pros: It is the one piece of identification that the pet can’t lose.

Personalized Pet Tag

One of the things that I found most disappointing with pet owners is having their pets arrive at the animal shelter without identification. Fortunately, some of the animals were such frequent flyers, that we started recognizing the animals on sight. In our business, we meet all of the negligent pet owners in the community. Less than 10% of the animals coming into the shelter were wearing any identification. Less than 12% of the cats coming into the shelter were ever reclaimed by their owners. So, cat owners generally do not put identification on their cats, but when the cat comes up lost, they don’t go looking for the cat either.

The problem with identification is a big problem at shelters. Animal shelters are always crowded and a pet ID allows get the animal home quickly. In several of the shelters that I worked for, we would create a personalized pet ID for every pet that is reclaimed. We preferred the animal going home, rather than coming to the shelter. I would like to report that the program was a huge success; but no, it was a waste of money. Even with the ID tags that we sent home with the owner (collar included) the animal would return to the shelter without identification. The problem was so persistent that I rewrote the ordinance to require that we microchip an animal that has been impounded three times without identification. This was a serious problem and you know how I feel about microchips. I used to say that a microchip is the next best thing to having no identification. And I was right, at least the animal now had a microchip…. now, if we can only find it.

So the biggest problem with a personalized pet ID tag is putting it on your pet. If you can manage that, then the personalized tag is your best option. On that tag, you can put your home phone (with area code) and address. With that available to the person who has found your pet running loose, you are likely to get a phone call. There are two things that cause personalized ID tags to fail: the first is if your pet is always running loose and is a nuisance in the neighborhood, then the finder will want to teach you a lesson by calling animal control. Animal control will likely swing by your home, but you might expect a citation. The other problem with personalized ID tags as is the problem with all tags is making sure that the information is current. A very large percentage of the 10% of the animals coming into the animal shelter with tags is that the information is too old to follow up on or cannot be traced.

Pros: It is the best form of pet identification.

Cons: It is no good if the pet isn’t wearing it or the information is outdated. Like license tags, the tag may be aluminum and will need to be replaced every year or two. If possible, opt for a brass or stainless steel tag.


Years ago, people used to have a tattoo placed in their pet’s ear. They would tattoo either a registration number or the person’s Social Security Number. Tattooing never really caught on because no one merged as the predominant register. And there was no one that you could call to find out the owner of a Social Security Number.

Pros: Permanent.

Cons: Tattoos blur over time. Most people don’t look for ID in an animal’s ear. No solid registration method.

If you are worried about your pet getting lost and your pet is microchipped or tattooed, contact your local animal shelter and provide them with that information. Most reasonable animal shelter software programs provide the ability of shelter personnel to input multiple forms of identification for animals.