What to Know About Microchipping Your Pet

Scanning dog for microchip
When a vet or animal shelter worker finds a lost dog or cat, she uses a scanner to find out if the pet has a microchip.

Here’s the story of how a microchip saved a dog named Sage: The 10-year-old, three-legged German Shepherd — a predominantly outdoor dog — went missing one summer from her owner’s property near Spokane, Washington. After being gone for three months, Sage was presumed dead, due to her age and poor physical condition. But then Sage’s owner received good news from a veterinarian in a town 30 miles away: Sage had been found and brought in for an exam. The veterinarian scanned her for a microchip (which she had) and checked a database for the owner’s contact information. If it hadn’t have been for this tiny piece of technology, the happy reunion between Sage and her owner very likely wouldn’t have happened.

A lost pet safely returned to her owner: Is there a better reason for microchipping? Keep reading to find out more about microchipping, then talk to your veterinarian about how to get your pet chipped and protected.

What Is a Microchip?

A microchip is a rice-size, nonreactive computer chip that has been programmed with a unique identification number. The chip is injected under your pet’s skin and serves as a permanent form of identification. Once the microchip has been placed, you register your contact information — and the pet’s description — with the database specific to that brand of microchip. (Some veterinary practices will do this for you.) Veterinarians and animal shelter workers who recover lost pets routinely check for these microchips through the use of scanners that read and display the pet’s microchip number.

Why Should I Microchip My Pet?

If the heartwarming story of Sage and her owner didn’t convince you, consider this: A microchip is a permanent form of identification that, unlike tags and collars, cannot be removed, lost, broken or stolen. Veterinarians and shelter personnel routinely scan lost dogs and cats for microchips. Therefore, the chances of being reunited with a lost microchipped pet are high. This becomes extremely important in the case of injured or sick pets who require owner authorization to perform procedures that extend beyond emergency stabilization.

Although it’s unpleasant to think about, microchips are also vital in the recovery of stolen pets. Ownership disputes are immediately settled when a microchip is discovered. Many veterinarians are alerted to lost or possibly stolen animals through fliers. So if an individual walks in with a found pet that matches the flier’s description, the veterinarian will likely scan for a microchip and take appropriate action.

When vets recommend a microchip to pet owners, they often say: “Well, my pet never leaves the yard!” or “My pet stays strictly indoors!” But owners of both indoor and outdoor pets should take advantage of microchipping, because invariably, even under the most diligent watch, pets get out of yards and houses. All it takes is an accidentally unlatched gate, a hole in the fence or the opening of a front door for a pet to make a quick getaway. And that’s not to mention other nightmares that could separate you from your pet — like natural disasters.

Who Inserts the Chip?

At your veterinary practice, the doctor or a veterinary technician can insert the chip via a hypodermic needle under the skin between an animal’s shoulder blades. (Properly inserted chips rarely migrate out of that specific area.) Many animal rescue facilities also offer microchipping when people adopt pets.  

Will a Microchip Hurt My Cat or Dog?

Inserting a microchip may cause slightly more discomfort than a routine vaccination, because the needle has a wider diameter to accommodate the microchip. Some pet owners prefer to have the microchip placed during routine anesthetic procedures, such as spays or neuters and dental cleanings

What Happens If My Pet and I Move?

Simply contact the microchip company to update your new contact information. Remember, a microchip is useless without being linked to the most current information. To ensure you’re aware of all the company’s procedures, ask your veterinary team questions about the specific microchip they recommend.

It’s disheartening that most lost animals coming through veterinary clinics and animal shelters aren’t chipped. It’s always a relief to hear that magical beep and see an ID number on the scanner. This means that an owner is only a phone call away. And if every pet owner had this simple procedure done for his or her pet, there would be thousands more happy endings — just like Sage’s.

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