Microchipping Your Pet – The Best Chance for Lost Pet Recovery

The statistics on the number of pets that are euthanized each year are heartbreaking. According to the most recent study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, more than half of all the pets that enter shelters are euthanized. A larger percentage of cats are euthanized, because cats are less likely to enter a shelter with some form of identifying information, i.e. a collar or tag. I have so often heard about a family pet being euthanized before the family could locate their whereabouts; sometimes within hours of the pet entering a shelter. Shelters are spilling over with animals, and the animals the shelter considers “less desirable”, are usually put down first. This is particularly troubling for me because two of my four house-cats are not social with anyone other than our family. Heaven forbid, one of them should escape and find her way into the local shelter. That is the primary reason I decided to have all of my cats microchipped.

What is a microchip and how is it implanted into my pet?

A microchip is an identifying integrated circuit that is placed just under the skin of your pet. The tiny chip, about the size of a grain of rice, is made from biocompatible materials, which means it is non-toxic and will not cause an allergic reaction. The method for inserting the chip is as easy as a vaccination. Your pet is not placed under anesthesia, nor is there any recovery time. A veterinarian places the chip in a hypodermic needle and injects the chip just under the skin, usually between the shoulder blades. The chip then bonds to the tissue in your pet usually within 24 hours, which should prevent the chip from moving around. Once the chip is in place, it does not wear-out or expire; therefore it should last during the life span of your pet. Cost varies, anywhere from $30 -$100, but it is a one-time cost.

How does the microchip work?

Using RFID (Radio Frequency Identification), the chip simply stores an identifying number associated with your pet; it is not a GPS device that can locate your pet. Afterwards, the pet owner must register the pet with the appropriate microchip company. If your pet is found with a microchip, with no identifying information in a database, the chip is useless. Some companies charge a small registration fee to register your information. Once your pet’s information has been placed in the database, the information can be accessed through scanning the microchip with a scanner or reader. Microchip companies usually donate these devices to shelters and veterinarian offices. Any information changes should be updated in the data base. For instance, should you move, it is very important that your address and contact information be updated with the microchip company, especially contact numbers.

Microchip vs. Collar and Tag

Some argue that a microchip is unnecessary since their pet has a collar and identifying tag, and many cat owners who have “indoor only cats”, suggest that since their cat never goes outside, why should they invest in a microchip. First, tags and collars can fall off or be removed, leaving your pet vulnerable, without identifying information. Second, even a “housecat” can accidentally find itself outside. A visitor may leave a door open too long, or a natural disaster may leave your pet out in the elements. A microchip is the only permanent method of identification that will increase the chances that your pet will be returned to you, should the unexpected happen.

What happens if my pet gets lost?

If your pet is taken to a veterinarian office or a shelter, he/she will be scanned. Provided the chip has been registered, the identifying information will display on the scanner. Depending on the policy of the microchip company, either the microchip company will be contacted – they in turn, will contact the owner; or the pet owner will be contacted directly by the veterinarian or shelter, using the registered information in the database. This is why it is so important to keep the information accurate and up to date.

Unfortunately, due to the different frequencies, and scanners used by microchip companies, the system is not perfect. However more microchip companies are providing universal scanners that can read a range of frequencies. In addition, work is being done by the American Microchip Advisory Council to develop a network of the various company databases, which will streamline the process for locating owner information. It is best to contact local veterinarians and shelters to educate yourself on their systems for handling lost pets before choosing a microchip company. Even with a less than perfect system, microchipping does bring pets and owners back together.

Does it work?

Yes! Research has shown that the return rate of a microchipped cat entering a shelter is 20 times higher than the return rate of a cat that enters with no identifying information. Linda Lord – lead author of a study conducted by the Department of Veterinary Preventative Medicine at Ohio State University stated the following, “We found that shelters did much better than they thought they did at returning animals with microchips to their owners.” She added that pet owners should strongly consider microchipping their pets.

With the growing popularity of microchipping, microchip companies are under more pressure to change their standards to a more universal system for returning pets to their owners. This is great news for pet owners, making microchipping an even more accurate method of pet recovery. A microchip used in conjunction with a collar and ID tag is the best way to ensure that your pet finds his/her way home.