Microchipping Could Save your Pet's Life

A microchip ID is a small transmitter about the size of a grain of rice. When a scanner passes over it, a signal is emitted indicating the unique identification number of the chip. This tiny but sturdy little implant can reunite you with a lost pet, serve as proof of ownership in a dispute, or even mean the difference between euthanasia and medical care in an emergency. In many communities, it is not legal to own an unmicrochipped dog and in many communities shelters automatically microchip any pet that is released through its doors for adoption.

Microchipping has been around for over twenty years yet there is still some resistance to chipping in the pet-owning public. Hopefully this FAQ will clear up any confusion.

Microchip Implantation: Basically a Shot With a Big Needle

The microchip ID is small enough to pass through a fairly large needle made for this purpose. Microchips are generally shipped in an individually packaged syringe made for chip implantation. Implantation is basically a shot and, if you like, it can be done in the examination room while you watch. The needle is fairly large so sometimes there is a yipe but, more often then not, the reaction is minimal. Chips can be implanted in newborn animals to assist in telling them apart. Some people like to wait until the pet is being spayed or neutered so as to be anesthetized for the rather large needle but waiting runs the risk of the pet escaping unidentified so it is a good idea to implant the chip as soon as possible.

A common misconception is that the chip implantation requires surgery. In fact, a chip can be implanted in a matter of seconds while you wait.

What Information is Encoded on the Chip?

Only the unique identification number is encoded on the chip. None of your personal information is on the chip. The chip number is similar to a vehicle identification number on a car. It is registered in a central registry just as a car is registered and it is the central registry that has your personal information (name, address, phone number, alternate contact, pet description etc.).

Can a Microchip be Used to Locate a Lost Pet?

No. A microchip is not a location device. At the present time, GPS collars are available but their use is limited by the fact that a collar can be removed or can come off.

A microchip is an identification device, not a locator.

What Happens if the Chip Does not get Registered?

It is vitally important that you register your chip. Simply having a chip will not bring your pet home to you. If a chip is unregistered, the manufacturer can trace the chip to the facility (pet store, shelter, animal hospital etc.) that they sold it to but if that facility does not have their own records, this will lead to a dead end. Be sure your chip registration is up to date.

If your chip is not registered and someone finds your pet and wishes to keep him, they may simply register the chip in their own name.

Often a chip is implanted and the registration forms are given to you to fill out on your own. If you do not send in the forms, the chip will remain unregistered.

Must the Chip’s Registration be Renewed Annually?

No. Once the chip is registered, that registration is indefinite. This is a good thing in that the chip never becomes unregistered after it has been registered. The problem is that people move or the pet changes ownership and the chip information is never updated. Some chip registries have developed deluxe programs that do require annual renewal largely as a means to remind you to keep your information current.

How Many Registries are There?

There are several and a chip can be registered in any of them. The good news is that most chip distributors have their own registries and it is easy to find a chip’s most likely registry based on its number. For example, one company’s chips are generally in the database of that company.

Microchip registration is different from licensing a pet although many communities include chip numbers in the license paperwork for a pet and maintain their own chip database.

What’s the Deal with the 15-Digit Chips vs. the 10-Digit Chips?

Microchips in the United States traditionally have 10 digits and emit their signals in the 125 kHz frequency. In many other parts of the world a different standard is used involving a 15-digit chip number that is read at the 134 kHz frequency. This second type of chip is often called an ISO chip. When a pet travels to another country, the implantation of an ISO chip is frequently required.

Since most pets never travel outside the U.S., this was an uncommon issue for a long time. Currently, there is a movement to eventually have one world standard of microchip. That said, not every shelter or animal hospital in the U.S. may be equipped to read ISO chips at this time. It is up to you if you wish to have a traditional chip or an ISO chip implanted. This decision should be based on the advice of your veterinarian and/or knowledge of what brand of chips are scanned at the shelter in your community.

Situations Where a Chip Can Mean Life or Death

Lost Pet This is the obvious situation for which the chip ID was developed. If your lost pet is recovered by the local shelter or taken to an animal hospital as a lost pet, the pet is scanned, the number found, the registry contacted, and you will be notified. Our hospital has seen lost pets recovered within an hour of escape from a yard or car.

Natural Disaster Earthquake, flood, fire, mudslide, hurricane etc. all lead to pets separated from their homes. In some cases, Animal Control must evacuate pets from a community into a central holding area. Being able to prove a pet is yours is invaluable in this situation, especially if your pet is difficult to identify from a photo or does not have distinguishing markings. After Hurricane Katrina, a number of rescued animals were evacuated to holding areas and their photos posted on the Internet. Many pets were frightened and good photographs could not be obtained.

Injury If a pet is injured while lost or roaming (as in the case of an outdoor cat hit by a car), a good Samaritan might bring the pet to an animal hospital for care. A stranger may not be willing to cover expenses for a pet they found on the road and if your pet has no identification, you may never even know what happened. A microchip allows you to be notified so that you can make decisions.

For more details, visit the websites of some of the microchip companies:

Home Again

AKC Companion Animal Recovery
Pet Parents


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