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Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital

BC Pet Identification: Tattoo or Microchip?

May 28, 2015

Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital Pet ID TattooIf you've brought your cat or dog in to be spayed or neutered at the Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital, you've heard us ask whether or not you would like to have him or her tattooed at no additional charge while under anesthetic. Regardless of your answer, you may have more questions about why we tattoo our pets and what the benefits of doing so are. Tattoos, like microchips, are just another means of pet identification. Because collars and name tags can get lost, tattoos and microchips act as permanent identifiers that can help lost pets find their way back to their owners.

What is a Pet ID Tattoo?

Under the BC pet tattoo program, pets are tattooed in their right ear at the time of spay or neuter. Please note that the ear tattoo is different from a breeder tattoo, which is usually on the flank and may or may not be permanently registered with an official governing body or organization. The tattoo is a unique series of letters and numbers that specify where and when the tattoo was done. For example, the cat in the photo has been tattooed with G116C. The G in the series refers to the Nanaimo Veterinary Hospital; all pets tattooed at our facility have a G as the first letter of their tattoo. Each veterinary hospital in BC has a unique and specific letter or series of letters that identifies the tattooing facility. The number 116 in the example simply specifies that this cat was the 120th cat that we tattooed at our hospital this year. The last letter, the C, specifies the year that the tattoo was done. As per the College of Veterinarians of BC guidelines, every animal that is tattooed in the province in 2015 will have a C in their tattoo.

How the BC Pet ID Tattoo Program Works

Every time we tattoo a pet, we record the tattoo number, along with the animal's name and description, and the owners name and contact information. Ideally, when a lost pet with a tattoo is found, the person who finds the pet calls or takes the pet into a veterinary clinic, SPCA, local pound, or similar facility. The tattoo number can then be identified and the organization can search their directory to identify and contact the veterinarian who tattooed the pet. The tattooing facility can then be contacted, and the pet and owner can be identified and reunited.

This is why it is imperative that you contact us, or the clinic that tattooed your pet, in the event that you move or change your phone number. Unfortunately, the ideal scenario as described above comes to an abrupt halt if the pet owner has moved without letting their veterinarian know and we get a phone number that is no longer in service when we try to contact the owner.

Pet Microchipping and How it Works

A pet microchip is about the size of a grain of rice and is implanted by a veterinarian between the animal's shoulder blades using a specialized syringe. The microchip can then be read by any facility with a universal scanner, somewhat similar to those used to scan bar codes at your local grocery store. Unlike a tattoo, microchips do not need to be implanted while the patient is under anesthetic, and can be implanted in any pet, regardless of age or spay/neuter status. In fact, many breeders are now having pups microchipped before sending them to their new homes.

Once the pet has been microchipped, the owner and implanting facility complete a form, which is then submitted to the microchip manufacturer for registration. When a lost pet is brought into a facility with a microchip scanner, the microchip can be quickly and easily read, and the owner can be contacted. As with the tattoo, it is important to keep your contact information up to date with the registering body, in this case, the manufacturer of the microchip.

Which is Better: Tattoo or Microchip?

Microchips and tattoos work differently and need not necessarily be autonomous; may of our patients have both. Each identification system has its benefits and drawbacks, some of which are listed below:

  • Tattoos can fade and become difficult to read over time
  • BC tattoo program is provincial, whereas microchips are international
  • Microchips are required by some countries for entry into the country, which may be important if you plan to travel with your pet
  • Tattoos can be seen and read by anyone, without the need for specialized equipment (microchip scanner)

While tattoos are, in some areas, being phased out in favor of microchips, most shelters and veterinarians still recommend tattooing your pet in addition to microchipping. After all, the more identification a pet has, the more likely it is that it will be reunited quickly with its owner. Regardless of whether your pet is tattooed, microchipped, neither, or both, consider signing up with the BC SPCA`s new BC Pet Registry database.

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