Can I see your ID? How a simple tag can save your pet’s life

File photo. File photo.

Having a pet go missing is anguishing. Posters go up and APBs are phoned in to local shelters and veterinary clinics, but so many cases go unresolved. Proper identification is the easiest way to make sure that your wayward pet comes back home.

Sometimes the simplest solutions are the best ones, and that’s the case here. Nothing beats a standard-issue collar and tag—there is no faster way to get your pet back than to have somebody call the phone number hanging around her neck. And if needed, additional tags can also be used to carry important medical information about your pet. Is your pet deaf? Diabetic? Epileptic? Have it engraved on a tag. Tags are inexpensive, readily available, and nearly foolproof. Despite this, too many pets run around neck-naked, rendering them completely adrift if they wander off.

I hear lots of reasons why animals don’t wear collars and tags, and none of them make much sense. The most common is simple indifference, which isn’t a reason at all. Some people object to the jingling, but a rubber band or a strip of tape fixes that right up. Others insist that pets just don’t like wearing them. Maybe not, but that’s flimsy ground for an argument—kids don’t like wearing seatbelts, but I truly hope they don’t get the last say on the matter. In a few days, your pet won’t even know the thing is there.

Tags do have one weakness, of course. They need to stay on. And that means your pet’s collar needs to be properly fitted. I have so many patients back right out of their collars while I examine them. If a collar can slip over your pet’s head, it is too loose. It’s not that your dog has a weird shaped skull, or that your cat has double-jointed ears. It’s just not tight enough.

A properly fit collar allows you to slip a few fingers underneath the strap and spin the collar around the animal’s neck with just a little resistance. But under no circumstances should it be able to slip off.

That said, mistakes happen, and animals can certainly separate themselves from their tags. Maybe your dog bolted out of the house straight from the bath, or your cat managed to pop the safety buckle in his collar. For some animals, microchips can be a good solution. Identification chips are injected beneath the skin, usually up in the scruff. They contain only one piece of information—a unique number that cannot be changed, which is registered by the owner in a database. These chips have the benefit of being permanent and unalterable, but they are invisible to someone that finds your pet. And unfortunately, despite common misconception, they cannot be used to track your pet’s location. The chips are completely inert unless scanned.

I think microchips have their place, but they do not serve as an adequate replacement for physical tags. Collars and tags should be the first line of defense, with chips used as a backup plan for owners who want the extra level of security.

It’s easy to think that tagging your pets isn’t all that important, until the day that it becomes the most important thing in your world. Please check this one off your to-do list before that day arrives.

Dr. Mike Fietz is a small animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.