It's always sad to see a flyer stapled to a signpost or on a
bulletin board at the grocery store with a picture of a lost Snuggles or
Scruffy. You imagine a child waiting for the phone to ring, hoping that
some kind person happens to find his kitty and see his flyer. Sadly, once
a pet is lost, the odds are against her finding her way home again.
According to the American Humane Association, only about seventeen
percent of lost dogs and two percent of cats ever find their way back
from shelters to their original owners. Almost 20 million pets are
euthanized every year because their owners can't be found. There are ways
to beat these odds though, and they're a little higher-tech than the
nametag and collar you're used to. To give your pet the best chance to be
identified, no matter how far he roams, have him implanted with a
Tags and collars are a good start—they're certainly better than no
ID at all—but they aren't 100 percent dependable. Tags can fade, rust, or
get scratched and be impossible to read. Collars can tear or slip off, or
even worse, get caught on something while your pet is wandering in the
wilderness and hurt or kill him. With microchipping, on the other hand, a
veterinarian injects a tiny computer chip—about the size of a grain of
rice—just under your pet's skin, between the shoulder blades. Then the
number on the computer chip is entered in an international database, like
the Central Animal Registry or PETtrac. If your dog or cat is found, any
animal hospital, shelter, or humane society can use a microchip reader to
read the unique ID number contained on the chip. The veterinarian or
worker then calls the database, or accesses it on the computer, and
enters the number given off by the microchip. The database matches the
number to your name and phone number. The chip can't be lost or damaged,
and it lasts for the pet's lifetime.
The microchip is convenient, safe, and reliable, but it still
isn't as popular in the US as it is in Canada and Great Britain. Though
many veterinarians and animal shelters are actively working to inform
their clients about microchipping, there are still a number of myths
keeping pet owners from microchipping their pets.
The implantation procedure is too expensive.
While the price can vary from one veterinarian to another, it often falls
between $25 and $40. A lot of veterinarians will charge even less if they
perform the implantation at the same time as another procedure, like
spaying, neutering, or dental work. It's a one-time fee; the chip never
needs maintenance or replacement. There may be a fee, generally under $20,
to enter your pet's ID number in a database, and there may be a small fee
for changing your address, phone number, or other contact information in
the database. Still, microchip identification is cheaper than making
flyers, calling around town, and taking time off work to find a lost pet.
It's going to hurt my pet to get the chip implanted.
The procedure is simple, routine, and painless, and it doesn't require
any anesthesia. Your pet simply gets an injection just under the loose
skin between the shoulder blades; it's a lot like getting vaccinated.
Most animals don't react at all.
They couldn't possibly give every pet with a microchip a unique number.
My pet's number will be duplicated.
The way technology works today, these tiny microchips can hold huge
amounts of information. In fact, the microchips are designed to produce
275 billion different identification numbers. On top of that,
manufacturers add unique product codes and manufacturer's codes to
identify their chips. With all the possible combinations of product codes
and ID numbers, there are more than enough numbers to make sure every pet
has a completely unique number.
Most shelters and veterinarians don't have microchip readers, so they
won't be able to identify my pet.
It's true that a microchip won't work to identify your pet unless your
pet comes in contact with a microchip reader, and there are some shelters
and veterinarians in the US that don't have readers yet. (In Canada,
almost all the animal control services and veterinarians have readers.)
But the three main microchip manufacturers offer microchip readers to
humane societies, shelters, and veterinarians for free or for a small
fee. Until recently, each brand of microchip could only be read by its
own brand of microchip reader. Recently, though, universal readers that
will read several brands of microchips have been made available to the
shelter community. Ask your veterinarian, your nearby humane society or
shelter, or the animal control department in your area whether they have
microchip readers readily available. If not, encourage them to get the
readers. Of course, to be sure your pets will be returned to you, you
should identify them as many ways as you can, with a tag, a microchip,
and even a tattoo.
Eventually, the microchip will wear out and I'll have to have it
The chip doesn't have an internal battery or power source. Most of the
time it is inactive. When the microchip reader is passed over it, it gets
enough power from the reader to transmit the pet's ID number. Since
there's no battery and no moving parts, there's nothing to wear out or
replace. The microchip will last throughout your pet's lifetime.
My cat never goes outside. She doesn't need to have a microchip ID.
It's wonderful that you're keeping your pet safe inside, but a guest or a
repair person could easily leave the door hanging open, or a screen could
come loose from an open window. Unaltered pets in particular will take
any chance to roam. There's a possibility that your house could be
damaged in heavy storm, flood, or other natural disaster, causing your
cat to run away in fear. Pets can even be stolen-particularly birds and
exotic or purebred animals. No matter how closely you watch your favorite
animal friend, there's always a chance she could get out, and if she
doesn't have any ID, it will be extremely hard to find her.
If someone else ever tries to claim my pet, the microchip ID number won't
hold up in court.
This issue hasn't actually come up in a court of law yet. However, a
microchip ID number is unique, it can't be changed, and it links a pet to
its owner through an international database. It works a lot like the
serial numbers that link vehicles, stereos, TV sets, and other valuable
possessions to their owners. The American and Canadian Kennel Clubs have
recognized microchipping as definitive proof of a dog's identity and
ownership, and accept microchip identification to register purebred dogs.
If you own a very valuable pet, or if you're afraid there might be a
question about who has custody of your pet, microchip identification
could be a big help.
It's not safe for my dog to have a foreign object inside his body.
Veterinarians have been implanting microchips in animals for years, and
the process has been proven to be very safe. The chip is made out of an
inert, biocompatible substance, which means it won't cause an allergic
reaction in your furry friend, and it won't degenerate over time. The
first versions of the microchip would sometimes migrate from where they
were injected, but manufacturers now design the chips with antimigrating
properties. When they're implanted properly, today's chips won't migrate.
Once they're in place, they won't move around or get near any delicate
tissues or organs. You can help make sure the microchip heals securely by
keeping your pet calm and quiet for the 24 hours following injection.
Because the microchip is placed just under the skin and not internally,
microchip reading is completely safe as well.
Microchipping is safe, effective, durable, and dependable, but it
can’t absolutely guarantee that a lost pet will be found. The best way to
keep your pet safe is to use more than one form of identification.
Microchips are long lasting and a wonderful means of identification, but
there is a chance a shelter won’t have a reader, so a tattoo would be an
effective backup form of identification. If kind strangers find your dog
in the street, on the other hand, they won’t have a reader handy to check
for a microchip and won’t know where to call to match a animal’s tattoo
to an owner. A tag with your name and address would let them bring your
pet right back to your door. Another possibility would be a tag that
informs readers that your pet has been microchipped and/or tattooed and
gives them the number to call to reach the ID number database. There’s
always the possibility that one kind of identification could fail, but if
your pet has two or three kinds of ID, there’s a good chance that at
least one will help bring her home to you. Talk to your veterinarian
about the best types of identification for your pet.
In a perfect world, leashes, fences, and doors would be enough to
keep your pet safe at home. In the real world, accidents happen, and your
pet depends on you to protect her against the things that could go wrong.
With a little effort now, you can take a big step toward ensuring that
your furry friend will be with you in the future.