Everything You Need to Know About Microchips

A brown dog faces away from the camera as a staff member scans the pet with a microchip scanner

A microchip is a small radio frequency identification device (RFID) roughly the size of a grain of rice that is implanted under your pet’s skin, where it will remain for the duration of their life. There is no battery life, no maintenance, and virtually no risk involved. After insertion, you won’t be able to tell the microchip is present. Shelters and veterinary clinics have compatible scanners that ‘read’ the unique number (often 12 to 15 digits long) associated with the microchip, thus giving your pet a permanent and unique method of identification. 

Why should I microchip my pet?

It is a sad fact that roughly 30% of pets will become lost during their lifetime – that’s one in every three dogs and cats! Accidents can happen at any time. Even if you have a pet who lives solely indoors, like many domestic cats, one cracked door or open window can lead to a disastrous situation for a cat who has never experienced the outdoors.

Even more alarming, many lost pets are never reunited with their families. In a study conducted by the AVMA, lost dogs without microchips could only be reunited with their owners in 21.9 percent of cases – that’s just one of every five lost dogs. For lost cats, the rate of return for cats without microchips was a terrifying 1.8 percent. Fortunately, the numbers improve significantly with the presence of a registered microchip. Over 50 percent of microchipped dogs were reunited with their families, and 40 percent of microchipped cats could find their way home again.

These numbers show many shelter and rescue workers know from experience – microchips are the most reliable way for lost pets to be reunited with their families. The lack of a registered microchip means there is a very slim chance of a found pet getting that happy ending. 

What is the procedure like to place a microchip? Will my pet need to be sedated?

Microchips are inserted by your veterinarian and can be done either under sedation or while your pet is present for a routine office visit. Many pet parents might elect to have the microchip implanted during a spay or neuter procedure, but there is no need to wait until your pet is asleep. The process is very similar to a routine vaccination and is no more traumatic for your pet. The microchip is implanted in the loose skin between your pet’s shoulder blades. Although it can migrate within that area’s skin, the body will instinctively work to hold the chip in place by binding it with scar tissue. 

Can a microchip track my pet if they go missing?

It’s a common misconception that microchips are the same things as GPS trackers. They are NOT the same as GPS trackers or location devices, and they cannot help you physically locate your pet. These chips are intended to help reunite you with your pet should they become lost.

GPS-tracking collar attachments are a popular new technology that can certainly be useful for some pet parents, but they can be removed or fall off if your pet gets lost. We recommend that all pets have a microchip, even if they have a GPS collar, and they last a lifetime and cannot be lost or removed from your pet. 

Why should I register my pet’s microchip?

After implantation, registering your pet’s microchip is very important.  Registration allows for the shelter or veterinarian with your pet to contact you to be reunited.

Here’s what happens if your microchipped pet is lost then found: A veterinary professional or shelter worker who finds a lost pet will scan them for the presence of a microchip and record their microchip number. Then, they will search the number on one of several nationwide databases. If your chip is registered, the search will return the organization’s name that the pet parent used to register the chip. The finder will then call that company and let them know they have a lost pet with the accompanying microchip number. To protect the private information of pet parents, the microchip company will take over at this stage and use the pet parents ‘ provided phone number or email address to contact them. If the microchip was never registered, or if the information is outdated or incorrect, finding the microchip number itself would be a dead end.

How do I register my pet’s microchip? Do I have to pay to register a microchip?

The veterinary office that microchipped your pet will provide you with the ID number and instructions on registering it. Despite what a company’s website may claim, you NEVER need to pay money to register your pet’s microchip number. You can register your pet’s microchip with several free databases so that you do not have to pay a subscription fee. Some companies charge for microchip registration, lost pet recovery services, and other services, and pricing for these services varies. Regardless of where you register, you will be asked to provide basic contact information and details about your pet.

If you adopted a pet from a rescue or are the new owner of a pet that already has a microchip, you will need to update ownership information in the registry. You will need to provide proof of ownership with medical records, a certificate of rabies vaccination, or other documentation.

Do microchips require any maintenance?

Once your pet has had a microchip implanted, and you have registered the number – you are done! There is no physical maintenance of the microchip that needs to be performed and no fees that need to be paid (unless you have elected to subscribe to a company’s recovery package or other services). Your only responsibility at this stage is to ensure that you keep your personal information updated in the registry’s database. If you move, change phone numbers, or email addresses, remember to update this information, as it is your pet’s only way home to you.

What to do if you lost your pet’s microchip number or are unsure if they are chipped?

If you are unsure whether your pet is microchipped or cannot remember the ID number or if you don’t know if you registered the chip, bring your pet to their vet’s office. It is fast, easy, and free to scan a pet for a microchip, and you can search one of the nationwide databases to see if the chip was ever registered with a company. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has created one of the most comprehensive databases, which can be found at petmicrochiplookup.org.

Summary

Microchips are safe, easy to implant, and no more painful for your pet than a vaccine. They can be implanted by your veterinarian during a routine office visit or combined with another procedure, such as a spay or neuter surgery. Microchips provide a permanent and unique identification number for your pet in a small implant that does not require maintenance and which will remain under your pet’s skin for the duration of their lifetime.

As pet parents, you will need to register the microchip number with a company so that you can be contacted if a stranger ever finds your pet. Many companies provide comprehensive recovery packages for an annual subscription fee, but several organizations offer free lifetime registration. It is easy to search your pet’s microchip number to see whether it is registered, and if so, with what company. And last but certainly not least, having a registered microchip tremendously increases the odds that your dog or cat will be able to be safely reunited with you should they ever become lost.