Protecting Your Pet with a Tatto
by JoAnne Talamo
JoAnne has updated this article 20 Nov 96 with editing assistance from her husband Jim, and Dr. Beth Fuhrmann, DVM.
Because dogs get lost and stolen at a frightening rate, it is very important to permanently identify your pet. Stolen pets do not often make headlines, so pet owners often have no idea there is a problem in their area. Tattoos are a very effective way to help protect your pet from theft and help authorities to get your dog back home to you. A tattoo is usually a number of your choosing that is written on the dogs inner thigh. Many tatooists are affiliated with dog registries which keep a permanent record of your dog's tattoo number and information on how to contact you.
Tattoos are so effective because they are OBVIOUS. Anybody can see a tattoo; they might not know exactly what the number means, but they'll know it's a lost/stolen pet. Stolen pets are often sold to research facilities or used as bait in dog fights; but, according to the SPCA, laboratories that purchase dogs for animal testing will not take a dog who is tattooed.
UNFOUNDED FEARS ABOUT GETTING A TATTOO:
1. This will mutilate my beautiful dog.
Wrong. Tattoos are usually put on the dog's inner thigh and can be almost any size. My dogs numbers are only about 1/2" high. My dogs are NOT mutilated; they're still beautiful. People are often curious about the tattoos and my dogs seem to enjoy showing them off.
2. It's going to be very painful.
Wrong. The tattooist should talk you through the whole procedure beforehand and will probably recommend a light sedative for your dog. Be sure to talk to your vet about the sedative. My dog did not indicate that it hurt much at all, although at first she was disturbed by buzzing noise of the needle.
3. It's going to be very traumatic.
Wrong. Thanks to the mild sedative, my Vizsla was very relaxed. Thirty seconds after the tattoo was done, she had forgotten all about it. My other dog, who is a high-strung terrier, was a bit more upset. But, as soon as she got off the table, she was her old self again.
THINGS TO REMEMBER:
1. Although your dog will be sedated, he/she will probably be restrained on his/her back on a table. Some dogs are not too happy with this kind of vulnerable position. You will play a strong role in reassuring your pet.
2. The tattoo needle and electric razor (to shave the area) both make a buzzing noise many dogs don't like. Again, you will play a strong role in reassuring your pet.
3. You will see a very small amount of blood.
4. It does hurt. Every dog is different. Neither of my dogs got very upset.
CAUTIONS ABOUT TATOOS:
1. Don't tattoo your dog on the ear. Ears can be cut off.
2. Use a number for your tattoo that is not going to change (i.e. Use your social security number, your dog's AKC number, or life-time dog license number; Don't use your phone number).
HOW TO FIND A TATOOIST:
You can often get information from your vet, the SPCA or Humane Society, or a dog registry like the National Dog Register (1-800-NDR-DOGS). *Note: Not all tatooists are affiliated with a dog registry and the NDR is not the only dog registry (it's just the one I used).
TATOOS vs. MICROCHIPS
According to a recent article in "Dog Fancy", microchips can migrate away from the area where they were implanted. There are supposed to be chips available soon that don't have this problem. This is a good thing to talk to your vet about. [Note from Ingle & Mead, please read our article on Microchips, along with this one, to help balance out your information.]
The article also said that there are 3 different kinds of chips and chip readers on the market right now and they are not compatible. Chances are, your local SPCA or Humane Society (with it's limited funds) are not going to have all 3 kinds of readers. A reader that reads all 3 is supposed to be available soon.
The average person who finds a lost dog may not even be aware of microchip technology. THey would be much more likely to notice a tatoo and immediately suspect that this pet has an owner. I personally wouldn't trust any lab that buys dogs that are obviously house pets to look too hard for a chip.
The article suggested that microchip technology is improving quickly and it is a positive step toward protecting your pet. It recommended pets have BOTH a tattoo and a microchip for maximum protection against becoming lost or stolen.
FINALLY, always remember that tattoos and microchips are not the total answer to protecting your pet. Practice normal precautions like fences (with a lock on the gate), leashes, and good training.