Everything You Need To Know About Microchipping Your Pet
In a world where there are more gadgets and gizmos and do-dads and whatsits being introduced faster than we can keep track, today on the blog we’re going to answer some of the most frequently asked questions about an innovative technology that is changing how we approach rescue efforts for lost pets: Microchipping.
We’ll start with the most obvious question: What is microchipping and how does it work?
According to the organizations such as The Humane Society of the United States, microchips are one of the most useful tools to help reunite you and your pet should she or he become lost. A microchip (also known as a “transponder”) is a small electronic chip that and contains a unique preprogrammed number used to identify your pet.
This chip is then placed in a biocompatible glass cylinder and implanted in your pet. Upon being activated by a low-power radiofrequency signal emitted from a scanner, the microchip will transmit your pet’s preprogramed identification number.
What is included in the “identification number?” Do I need to worry about my privacy?
The preprogramed identification number stored on the microchip is just that: a reference number for your pet that can be registered in a microchip database.
Your contact information is not stored on the microchip itself; instead, that information is stored in the database. If your missing pet's chip is later scanned, the identification number can be searched in a lookup tool and – if your chip is registered – your contact information will pop up.
Note: It is incredibly important that you complete the registration process as soon as you have your pet microchipped – this is the only way the microchip will be effective! Only you can provide the key identification and contact information registered in the microchip database, and there are safeguards to ensure that any private information you provide in the registry cannot be accessed by random individuals.
“Unfortunately, at present, there is no single national chip registry, and some manufacturers don’t participate in universal search databases like the American Animal Hospital Association’s Pet Microchip Lookup Tool,” says Inga Fricke, Director of Pet Retention Programs at The Humane Society of the United States. “Having your pet registered in several locations is a good idea.”
We recommend registering your pet’s preprogrammed number and your up-to-date contact information in at least one, and ideally several, of the following registries:
And don’t forget to periodically check to ensure that your contact information and any other identification or medical information in the database is up to date, especially if you move or change phone numbers.
Is microchipping harmful to or unsafe for my pet?
There has been some debate among advocacy groups on the long-term health impacts of microchipping, but the consensus among veterinary professionals is that the benefits of microchip implantation outweigh the potential health risks (World Small Animal Veterinary Association Microchip Committee).
According to British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), only 391 adverse reactions to microchip implantation have been reported among over 3.7 million microchipped pets in the 13 years since the organization introduced its microchip adverse reporting database in 1996 – most of the reported adverse reactions was migration of the microchip from the original implementation location.
Further, the implementation process is relatively simple and non-invasive. Similar to a typical vaccination injection, trained professions such as your regular veterinarian use a hypodermic needle to implant the microchip – neither surgery nor anesthesia are necessary.
“Microchipping is virtually painless for your pet - the chip itself is about the size of a grain of rice- and it only takes a second or two to implant,” Fricke says. “Your vet can perform the procedure in the office, or you can call your local shelter and ask if they will be sponsoring a free or low cost microchip ‘clinic.’”
And while microchip requires very little maintenance after the initial implementation, the AVMA recommends that you contact your regular veterinary professional if you observe any abnormalities such as swelling or drainage around the implementation site.
So, does microchipping work like a GPS tracker to find my lost pet?
No – a microchip does NOT transmit your pet's location like a GPS tracker. Its only function is to return your pet's unique identification number when scanned. This allows it to be an extremely low-power device, which is why it never needs to be charged like a GPS collar does.
Again, the microchip only contains the identification number for your pet and nothing else. This number can be used to look up your contact information in the database where your pet's chip is registered – but only if your pet's chip is in fact registered! This is why it is so important to register the chip with its manufacturer and keep your contact information up-to-date.
How long do microchips last?
Because microchips do not contain a battery or other moving parts, they will very rarely wear our or need to be replaced and can last the length of your pet’s lifetime. However, the AVMA recommends that your veterinary professional scans for and confirms that the microchip is still functioning properly at least once every year.
What can I do to help find my microchipped pet if he or she goes missing?
If your pet goes missing, you need to verify that your chip is registered and your contact information (phone number, address, etc.) is up-to-date. It is crucial that your contact information in the registry is accurate to help more quickly reunite you with your lost pet. Inaccurate contact information can delay or even prevent your reunion from happening.
Does microchipping my pet really help me find my pet if he or she goes missing?
Yes! A 2009 study conducted by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) of more than 7,700 stray animals at animal shelters concluded that microchipped dogs were more than 2x as likely to be returned to their owners than dogs without microchips (52.2% of the time to 21.9% of the time, respectively).
And for stray cats, the difference in reunion rates were even more significant – cats with microchips were returned to their owner 38.5% of the time while cats without microchips were only returned to their owners 1.8% of the time, making it nearly 22x more likely that a cat with a microchip will be reunited with its owner!
Even though microchipping is clearly an effective tool to help increase the odds you will be reunited with your pet should he or she become lost, nothing can replace the importance of also ensuring that your pet has up-to-date and securely fastened identification tags.
“While microchips are a wonderful, virtually permanent source of identification, they have their limits, and they can never replace the benefits of always shaving your pet wear a collar and ID tag,” Fricke says. “To maximize your pet’s safety, have her microchipped, register that chip and ensure your contact information is always up to date, and make sure she’s always wearing a collar with an ID tag.”
With May being National Chip Your Pet Month, be sure to ask your veterinary professional for additional information on the benefits of microchipping your pet during your pet’s next routine check-up. You can also learn more at:
- American Veterinary Medical Association - Microchipping of Animals FAQs
- The Humane Society of the United States - High Tech: Identifying Lost Pets with Microchips
- American Animal Hospital Association – Microchipping