Why Your Pet Needs a Microchip

The first time I read about microchips, I thought the ethical implications were … questionable.  However, I luckily learned about the more widespread use of the microchip:  to identify animals.

All pets need a microchip.  Microchips identify which pet belongs to who at a shelter, and help locate your lost pet.  Even if your pets aren’t lost, knowing that all strays should be scanned can help you find the owner of that cute little stray that just appeared in your yard.

Read on to learn more about microchips, and how they help keep your pets safe.

How does a microchip work?

Microchips are a small pellet, which is inserted by your veterinarian under the skin on the back of your pet’s neck.  It’s a fairly painless procedure, no more harmful than an vaccination.  The microchip itself is about the size of a grain of rice.

A hand scanner is used to identify the chip, which emits a code.  The code is then called in to a database company, who has the contact information for the owners of pets with their brand of chips.  If the scanner doesn’t match the chip, it’s OK–the hand scanners will identify a chip even if they can’t read it, so the person scanning can get another scanner.

Microchips are used across the animal sciences.  Zoos and conservation efforts use them to identify both captive and wild animals of many species.  They can be placed in almost any animal for permanent identification.

Are there any health risks or side effects?

A few health risks have been reported.  Infection of the injection site is possible, though as minimal as infection in any other shot.  A miniscule amount of animals have developed cancer at the injection site.  Improper injection has caused the death of at least one dog.

Rarely, chips migrate through the body.  Typically this doesn’t harm your pet, though it does provide a very slight risk.

However, considering the risk of never finding your dog again, I feel the health risks are minimal.

How do they help me find my lost pet?

While microchips do not always prove legal ownership, each chip manufacturer keeps a database of chips used.  When your pet’s chip is registered, it creates a record of that animal belonging to you.  With a small annual membership, the chip database will alert you if someone finds your pet, or will provide your contact information to the person who finds your pet.  Your personal information is not encoded on the chip. The chip only contains an ID number.

HomeAgain, one of the largest microchip suppliers in the US, says that only 2% of lost cats are recovered by their original owners.  Yet 20 times that number of microchipped cats make it home–showing definitive proof that microchips work.

 How do I get my pet chipped?

If you purchased your pet from a breeder or rescue, your pet may already have a chip that simply needs registration.  Otherwise, your veterinarian can scan your pet and check, and then insert a chip.

Breeders and rescues will microchip dogs that they sell or place, as a fail-safe if the pet is lost or abandoned.  The breeder or rescue will also get a call if the animal is lost, so if you forget to update your information or are otherwise unable to rescue your lost pet, they will step in.

What else can microchips do?

Some microchip companies developed other products that work with microchips.  For example, SureFlap developed a pet door that will only open for animals with given microchip numbers, keeping the neighbor’s cat and the raccoons out of your house while allowing your dog free access.  They also created food dishes that open only for the specific microchip number, keeping the fat cat out of the skinny cat’s food.

Have you recovered your pet through a microchip?

Tell us about your experience with your.  What brand did you use, and how was your pet recovered?

If your pet is currently lost, check out our lost dog and lost cat tips.

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