Dr. Walt's happy tails: How to find a lost pet

Dr. Walt's happy tails: How to find a lost pet

Author: Canadian Living


Dr. Walt's happy tails: How to find a lost pet

One of the concerns that veterinarians, pet owners, and shelters share alike is the quick reuniting of owner and pet when a pet goes missing. Few things bring a rush of angst more than the disappearance of a beloved pet and the anxiety in waiting for word as to their whereabouts is heightened by the current poor methods of reliable pet identification. Let me take a moment to briefly summarize the strengths and weaknesses of the various pet identification methods and to relay to you why I believe that microchipping represents the best pet identification method currently available to pet owners.

The simplest method of pet identification is the dog/cat tag. This can be a municipal license, a rabies tag, or a personalized tag. The strengths are that this method is relatively inexpensive and is quick and easy to implement. However, the weaknesses limit its usefulness. As the tags are attached to your pet's collar, they are often lost or can be easily removed giving no permanent means of identification. Also, with municipal or rabies tags, the specific owner must be retrieved through city hall or the veterinary clinic involved and this may not be possible for hours or even days, preventing a quick owner/pet reunion. Another concern is that this information is regional and may, therefore, not be easy to access if your pet is lost away from home. This may be avoided, to some degree, by personalized tags.

A second method of pet identification is by means of a tattoo applied either to the inside of your pet's ear flap or on the inner thigh region. This is generally used in purebred dogs for Canadian Kennel Club registration. This method's strength lies in the fact that it is a permanent means of identification. The weaknesses are defined by several points. First, tattooing is a moderately painful procedure that often necessitates an anesthetic to perform. Second, tattoos often become faded or distorted with age, making them illegible. Finally, the same potential delay in information retrieval exists as with tags.

A high tech method of pet identification, called electronic pet identification or microchipping, is rapidly gaining popularity. It involves the injection, using a standard hypodermic needle, of a small identification “chip”, about the size of a grain of rice, under the skin of your pet's upper back. Humane societies, municipal animal control offices, and most veterinary clinics have scanners, much like bar code readers used in retail stores, that can be passed over the animal and pick up the implanted microchip. The scanner recovery network spans Canada coast to coast and owner identification is quickly made by accessing a central computer data bank available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, by either phone or through the Internet. Therefore, this technology has no regional boundaries and will even be helpful in identifying your pet should he/she become lost anywhere in North America, Europe, or Asia, all of which have well-developed microchip programs in place. Veterinary medical associations, and shelter and humane groups all recognize the benefits of this form of pet identification and have position statements favoring its adoption as a more commonly used form of pet identification. Recently, many municipalities have moved to incorporate microchipping into their licensing program, often offering savings over the more conventional tag approach, especially if your pet is also neutered. This method avoids all of the pitfalls associated with the previous two identification methods, however does have one disadvantage -- the microchip is not visible so a scanner must be used to identify the pet. To overcome this, most microchip manufacturers will provide the pet owner with a tag that lets the individual finding your pet know that the animal has a microchip.

My belief in microchipping is so firm, I have both Dharma and Charlie (my two yellow Labradors) microchipped. Fortunately, I have not had to rely on this technology to date but I do take great comfort in knowing that should they become lost, a quick trip home is simply a scan away!

Page 1 of 2 -- An expectant mother is worried about the way her cat will react to her newborn baby. Read Dr. Walt's advice on page 2.

Dear Dr. Walt: We are expecting our first child in June. So naturally I am getting an over abundance of advice right now. Some of this advice has been that our cats may accidentally (or out of jealously) smother our baby by sleeping on him because he is warm. Frankly, I think this whole notion is ridiculous. Any thoughts?

You raise one of a number of common 'pet myths' that are often perpetuated because they are based on half-truths. In this situation, the half-truth is that it is never wise to allow any pet, whether dog or cat, unsupervised access to a newborn child or infant. The reason is that one can never predict the response of either and very close contact, whether when awake or asleep, may result in irritation of your newborn's immature respiratory tract due to your pet's hair and dander. I have never heard of a case of an infant being smothered in this fashion and common sense would dictate that first, the screams of the uncomfortable child would scare the cat away and second, I doubt your cat ever slept in a manner that would obstruct your own breathing. This pet myth was even taken one step further with some claiming that a cat can 'suck a child's breath away'. Even if a cat had the desire to do this (which they don't) its lung capacity would have to exceed that of the child's - in essence, it would have to be the size of a full grown lion! The bottom line is to use common sense - for many reasons (but not the smothering theory), it is simply in the best interests of both infant and cat to avoid allowing them to sleep together.

This question does raise an interesting area, and that is pet myths in general. In future columns I will try to debunk many of those still in existence but would love to hear from readers of any that they would like answers to.
Page 2 of 2 -- On page 1, learn about the pros and cons of various pet identification methods.

About Dr. Walt Ingwersen

Dr. Walt Ingwersen is Chief Veterinary Officer at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. He is a 1982 graduate of the Ontario Veterinary College. Board certified in Internal Medicine, he has the distinction of being the first Canadian editor of the Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, a position he currently holds.

Involved in many aspects of the national and international veterinary community, "Dr. Walt" is the recipient of the President's Award for outstanding contribution to the veterinary profession awarded by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association (CVMA). He is also Chief Veterinary Officer and Chairman of the Veterinary Advisory Board at PetCare Insurance Brokers Ltd. – Canada's leading provider of insurance for dogs and cats.


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Dr. Walt's happy tails: How to find a lost pet