Finding His Way Home

Contributed by Angie Lewis, President of Alaska Animal Advocates

No matter how cautious you are with your pet, there is always a chance that he may get lost. In fact, many pets get lost at least once in their lifetime. Most pets, who manage to get back home, are either microchipped, tattooed or wearing an ID tag of some sort.


Microchips are about the size of a grain of rice and are injected under the skin, between the shoulders. Each chip has a unique code that is registered with a recovery center such as Home Again or Avid. The microchip syringe is quite large and can be painful for your pet, so waiting until he is sedated for another reason, is a good idea. Or, ask for a local anesthetic to be administered.  

If your pet becomes lost, most veterinary offices, Animal Control or shelters typically have a scanner that will be able to read your pet’s number. The key here, is that you must register your current contact information with the recovery center. Be sure to keep this information updated, should you move or change phone numbers. 

Although microchips are thought to be relatively safe, there are some holistic veterinarians that are concerned about the possibility that microchips can cause tumors at or near the injection site.  In addition, a microchip can sometimes migrate and so a full body scan may be required to locate the chip number. 

Permanent Tattoos: 

Tattooing your pet involves a code or other information being tattooed either on the ear flap, abdomen or inner leg of your pet’s body. This technique is typically done when your pet is sedated for another procedure, or a local anesthetic can be used to minimize any pain involved.  A downside to using identifying tattoos for your pet is that it doesn’t make sense to tattoo him if you relocate or your phone number changes periodically. Registering the tattooed information with an entity such as AKC Reunite or the National Dog Registry will help you reconnect with your lost pet.  

Drawbacks to this method are that tattoos can sometimes fade and therefore be difficult to read as time goes by. Also, dogs that are very furry make it difficult to search for the identifying information. Many people, who might be trying to reconnect you with your pet, may not think to look over your dog’s body for a tattoo. Your pet may not be comfortable having a stranger handle him, particularly if he is scared or nervous being away from his family.

ID Tags: 

ID tags are typically made from plastic or metal and are attached to your pet’s collar or harness.  These tags are engraved with your contact information.  The tags are typically inexpensive and are easy to find on your pet so that a kind person, trying to help your pet get back to his family, will not be challenged with finding your address or phone number.    

Again, this contact information must be current, or the tag will need to be replaced.  In addition, these tags often fall off the collar or get quite worn and difficult, if not impossible to read.  

There are digital ID tags that link to an online service and can be scanned with a smartphone. In addition, there are USB ID tags that house a thumb or flash drive, which attaches to your pet’s collar and stores his information. This does require that the person who finds your pet have access to a computer and knows how to use a thumb or flash drive. 

GPS Tracking Devices:

These devices help a guardian monitor their pet’s whereabouts, particularly if your pet is off leash often. GPS trackers are great for locating pets that are escape artists, but do not assist a stranger in returning your lost pet to you. 

Radio Frequency Identification Devices: 

These devices are basically microchips that are worn by your pet, rather than being implanted under his skin. RFIDs are more a tool to help you find your lost pet and not so much as a help for someone to get in touch with you if they find your pet. 

Each of these devices are helpful tools to get your pet returned to you if he gets lost.  Certainly, trying to keep your pet from getting lost in the first place is quite important. Every pet should have a standard ID tag, which is so easy for a helpful individual to use to reconnect you with your pet. Then, choose one of the other devices that will work with your individual pet.