Have you ever had a pet go missing? Each year, millions of pets get lost or separated from their owners and homes. Some manage to get back home, while for others their fate remains a mystery to their loving families. As an ER veterinarian, I've returned lots of pets to their families after they've gotten lost, but I've also had the heartache of dealing with many injured stray pets, and the stories don't always end happily.
Microchips are a convenient, safe and inexpensive way to up the chances that your pet will be returned to you if they ever get lost. I'd like to share a few tips and pointers about microchips with you that I've learned and that may help reunite you with a lost pet. I'll also provide some tips for steps to take if your pet does become lost.
What's a Microchip?
- Microchips are injected under the skin and provide a permanent, safe and reliable way of returning your pet to you.
- In most cases, it's easiest to insert the microchip while the pet is under anesthesia - although not absolutely necessary. A spay or neuter is the perfect time to get your pet 'chipped'.
- If your pet gets lost, nearly every vet ER, hospital and animal shelter has a scanner that can detect the microchip. After that, it's a simple matter of calling the company and getting your contact info.
- Make sure your dog or cat has a current ID tag or microchip and that the info is updated if you move. Call the vet clinic that inserted the chip to keep it current.
How Can I Be Prepared If My Pet Goes Missing?
- Make sure you have current and easily visible pictures of your pet -it's very helpful for flyers, newspaper or Craigslist ads.
- Keep a list of nearby vet ERs, shelters, and humane societies, as well as local animal control.
- When your dog or cat receives a rabies vaccine, you'll get an ID tag that's linked to your contact info. This is another in the chain that can lead them back to you - and lets the folks finding your dog know that they are current on shots should they bite anyone.
- Cats should have identification, too - even the indoor ones! A breakaway collar that's released if caught on a fence, furniture, anything else is safest and prevents choking.
What If My Pet Is Lost?
- Put up as many flyers as you can in your neighborhood. Include a clear, recent picture, your contact information and your pet's name. A reward makes return much more likely. If your pet is on medication or has a medical condition, put that on the flyer - it may make a difference.
- Check Craigslist for pet lost and found notifications. In the veterinary ER, that's the first place we look. Post a missing notice there if your pet gets lost; it's the modern equivalent to a flyer on a telephone pole.
- Call local vet ERs. Uninjured strays are often sent to animal control quickly, but if they're hurt, they may still be there.
- Try nearby shelters and animal control. The local police non-emergency number can usually connect you after hours (don't call 911 - that's exclusively for life-threatening emergencies).
- Spread the word to your community. If you're a member of a local YMCA, church, synagogue or mosque, that's an easy way to reach a bunch of neighborhood people quickly.
- Send an email blast "pet amber alert." Lots of neighborhoods now have websites with contact info for of local people. An email alert can often go out to dozens of folks who may be within a few blocks of you. In my own neighborhood, I've returned several dogs to their happy owners this way.
- Be patient and don't give up hope. Many pets will escape then sit tight in a hidey-hole for days or weeks. Then it may take weeks or months for someone to find them. We've all heard stories of pets who were lost for years before being returned to their owners
Make sure your pet has an ID tag with current contact information and consider getting them microchipped. If you do, keep the information current. If your dog or cat has the right identification and you take heed of the above info, you'll have a better chance of a safe return if they do go missing.