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Friday, January 7, 2011

Tattoo or Not Tattoo

"De plane, boss!  De plane!"

Sorry, I couldn't resist.  And my younger readers probably have no clue what the heck that means.

Yesterday I talked about microchips.  In the discussion about identifying pets, tattooing usually comes up.  In fact, many people are strong advocates of tattoos over microchips.  Tattoos cannot fail, and short of cosmetic surgery to remove the skin, they can't be lost.  However, I think they are less than ideal methods of identification, and I don't recommend them.  Here are some reasons.

1.  In my experience few veterinarians have tattoo equipment.  The tattoos normally used for livestock are the ones most commonly seen in veterinary offices, and even then usually only with large animal vets.  So finding someone who can tattoo a pet may be a bit tricky.
2.  Tattoos can be altered or covered over by anyone with tattoo equipment.  This may even be done by non-vets with human tattoo equipment.
3. Placing a microchip is very quick, taking a couple of seconds.  Giving a tattoo is a lengthier procedure, and may require heavy sedation.
4.  My biggest objection to tattoos is that there is no standard.  Some will put their dog's AKC registration number.  However, many or most non-vets probably won't know what the numbers are.  And what about mixed-breed dogs?  They don't have an AKC identification number.  Tattoo your phone number?  There's a good chance that you will not have that number for the rest of your pet's life, and then what do you do?  Use your Social Security number (in the US)?  First, that's a huge risk for identity theft.  Second, there's no way to get in touch with you through that number.  Tattoo a pattern or a string of random numbers?  Sure, you could tell that a pet is yours pretty quickly, but when someone finds your pet how are they supposed to get in contact with you?  All-in-all, tattoos provide a pretty poor way to find the lost pet's owner, in my opinion.

If you're one of the ones who are big supporters of tattooing as a method of identifying your pet, I'm sorry if I've ruffled your feathers.  But based on the reasons above I can't recommend it to my clients.

Tomorrow I'll close out this latest discussion on pet identification by discussing whether or not there is a risk of tumors associated with microchips.


  1. You make some great arguments against the use of tattoos. You definitely gave me a different perspective.

  2. 1. Just because the majority of vets don't have the equipment or expertise to tattoo an animal is a very poor argument against the use of a tattoo.

    2. Microchip numbers can be duplicated. Even Chris Laurence (Veterinary Director of Dogs Trust, Chairman of the Microchip Advisory Group, and advocate of microchipping) admits that!

    Here's the interview in which Mr. Laurence admits that microchip numbers can be duplicated (and that adverse microchip reactions are under-reported):

    Years ago, Barbara Masin of Trovan microchips tried to warn the powers that be regarding the potential to duplicate microchip numbers. Here's what she said:

    "I went to the USDA listening sessions and offered to show them the problem with duplication possibilities, but they didn’t want to see it. The situation is very political. There are certain people involved within the USDA who have very close ties to certain manufacturers. There is an underlying agenda, unfortunately, and this is not for the good of the country.” (

    Microchips can also stop working, be rejected by the body, be surgically removed etc ...

    3. Just because it's quick and easy to inject a microchip in an animal does not mean it's a good idea to use the technology. This sounds like another poor excuse to justify the implantation of microchips (foreign object) in animals.

    4. There are no standards for microchip implants and scanners. But then again, Dr. Bern is already aware of this because in one of his discussions regarding microchip implants he writes:

    "Now there is a problem with microchips in the US because there are a couple of different competing frequencies (see my previous post). Modern universal scanners should be able to read all frequencies. However, there is one company, Avid, that has encoded their chips so only an Avid-brand scanner will read them. There was even a controversy because all other microchip manufacturers agreed to unencode their chips so all scanners could read them, but in the US Avid refused to do so (even though they have different frequencies and open-read microchips outside of the US). Some scanner companies found ways to "crack" the code and can now read Avid chips. However, this isn't consistent or reliable, so in some cases an Avid microchip can only be read by an Avid scanner." (

    Although the majority of pet owners have been led to believe that "universal" scanners can read all microchip implants, they cannot:

    "RESULTS: None of the scanners examined had 100% sensitivity for any of the microchip brands. In addition, there were clear differences among scanners in regard to sensitivity. The 3 universal scanners capable of reading or detecting 128- and 134.2-kHz microchips all had sensitivities > or = 94.8% for microchips of these frequencies. Three of the 4 scanners had sensitivities > or = 88.2% for 125-kHz microchips, but sensitivity of one of the universal scanners for microchips of this frequency was lower (66.4% to 75.0%)." (

  3. 5. Here's what happened to Hadden because the scanner could not detect his microchip implant:

    6. Here's what happened to Coco because her microchip implant failed:

    7. Here's what happened to a horse in Europe (mandatory chipping) because of a microchip implant:

    8. Meanwhile, microchip companies engage in the "microchip wars" and sue one another for their immoral behavior and shoddy product:

  4. I've never stated that microchips are foolproof or can't fail. I've also brought up my own experiences with universal scanners not finding chips. However, microchips are easier and a better form of identification than tattoos in my opinion.

    While there are different frequencies used, the "standard" is still more uniform than with tattoos. Again, go back to my last point. What kind of tattoo do you get? How is that tracked down? The ultimate goal of an ID system is not merely to be able to tell that a pet is yours, but to have a lost pet be reunited because someone can get in touch with you. Regardless of the method used, much of that responsibility lies with the owner to keep contact info updated appropriately.

    The bottom line is that NO METHOD of identification is 100% effective 100% of the time. Collars can be lost, microchips can have their own issues, and there simply is no standard of what kind of tattoo to place and no common registry for tattoos.

    So for the proponents of tattoos, I challenge you to address my concerns in #4 of my post.


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