Understanding microchipping: The lifesaving tool pet owners need

Turning Points 4 min read

One of the most devastating things that can happen to cat or dog owners is losing their precious fur baby. Whether your cat escaped out the door or your dog managed to slip out of his leash during a walk, a missing pet leaves you with heartache and sleepless nights. That’s why it’s so important to get your pet microchipped.

The statistics are sobering. Every year, out of about 10 million pets lost, only 15% of dogs and 2% of cats in shelters without IDs or microchips return home. If you have microchipped your pet, they’re much more likely to enjoy a happy reunion — just like a small dog named Scrappy in San Antonio, Texas. Scrappy’s owners were located seven years after he went missing, thanks to his microchip.

Or consider Dopey, the sweet cat found six years after going missing 40 miles away. Dopey was scheduled for euthanization when a scanner revealed he had a microchip and a worried owner.
This guide will walk you through the most common questions and misconceptions about microchipping so you can know what’s right for your pet.

What is microchipping?

Pet microchips are tiny transponders about the size of a grain of rice. When scanned by a microchip reader, they transmit a unique ID number that’s 9, 10 or 15 digits long. They don’t even require batteries. If you register the ID number in a database, the pet’s identity can be found quickly.
One study found that microchipped pets have a much higher chance of being reunited with their owners. That’s why in some regions, pet microchipping is legally required.

How is microchipping done?

Microchipping is a quick and simple process. Your veterinarian will typically implant the microchip between your dog’s or cat’s shoulder blades, just under the skin. They choose this spot because it’s easy to scan and the microchip is less likely to shift over time to another location. The vet or a technician will insert the microchip via a hypodermic needle, similar to how your pet gets vaccinated. It’s not painful, it doesn’t require anesthesia, and the whole process takes just a few seconds.

Where can you get your pet microchipped?

You can get your pet microchipped at your veterinarian’s office for convenience. But other places, like shelters or clinics, may offer it too.

How much does microchipping cost?

Although prices vary based on the provider getting a microchip may cost $75 or less. Some locations have low-cost or even free microchip services. And some pet insurance wellness plans cover the cost.

How microchip registration and scanning works

Getting the microchip is just the first step. Next, you must register the microchip with your contact information, pet details (sometimes including the medications your pet needs), and veterinarian’s information. Registering the microchip is vital — without an up-to-date registration, you won’t be reunited with your pet.

When registering your microchip for the first time, you have many registries to choose from. Try starting with your microchip’s manufacturer and one of the registries the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) works with. Some commonly used companies include PetLink, PETtrac, HomeAgain, AKC Reunite, 24Petwatch, and more. Some are free, some require a one-time fee, and others have premium options with extra services. If you’re unsure which one to choose, ask for your veterinarian’s recommendation. Your city might also have a local registry you can use in addition to one of these registries.

After that, visit the AAHA’s Microchip Registry Lookup to see if your chip has been registered. Enter the microchip number and click “Search.” You’ll see which (if any) companies you have enrolled your pet’s microchip with, the latest update, and the website or phone number for more details.

If you don’t know your microchip number, ask your veterinarian to scan it. Be sure to save this information! If you move, change contact information, or get a new veterinarian, you’ll want to update your registration.

Once registered, anyone can easily identify your pet if she’s ever lost. Veterinarians, shelters, and rescues — or anyone with a scanner — can scan the chip and get all your contact information to help ensure your pet’s safe return.

Common myths and misconceptions about microchipping

Now that you know why a microchip is important and how it works let’s clear up some common myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1: Microchips cause cancer

Microchips are very safe. The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that two dogs and two cats have had tumors related to microchips. But at least two of these may have been caused by something else. Ultimately, the benefits of reuniting with a lost pet greatly outweigh any cancer risk.

Myth #2: Microchips can track your pet’s location in real time

Microchips are just transponders that send information when scanned. They don’t track your pet’s location in real-time. If you want this, you’ll need a GPS tracking device. However, you can lose a GPS tracker, and they don’t provide your contact information.

Myth #3: Microchips are painful

Some people believe that microchips are painful, but this just isn’t true. Pets don’t feel the microchip itself. When they receive the microchip they may feel a small pinch, just like when they get a vaccine.

Myth #4: Microchips aren’t reliable

Some people believe that microchips aren’t reliable, but that’s not true. Microchips don’t need batteries, and they don’t expire. The chances that a shelter or clinic can’t read a microchip are very low.

The key to reliability is updating your registration if your information changes. It’s also a good idea to register with multiple databases.

Myth #5: Microchips can replace ID tags

You’ll still want your furry friend to wear an ID tag on a collar, even if he has a microchip. You don’t require a special scanner to read ID tags. But collars can break, and IDs can fall off or become difficult to read, so it’s good to have both.

The bottom line: Microchipping protects pets

Microchipping your pet is a safe, quick, and painless procedure for which you might be very thankful one day. If your pet is lost, you’ll be glad a shelter or clinic can locate your contact information immediately.

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