A dog owner’s guide to microchips

Have you ever endured the anguish of a pet slipping out the door and disappearing? Unfortunately, 1 in 3 dogs get lost during their lifetimes, and according to the American Humane Society, only 17% of them are ever recovered.

How can you beat the odds of this happening to your pet? Number one priority: Have your pet wear an ID tag with a phone number where you can be contacted. Unfortunately, many people forget to check their dog’s tags on a regular basis–they often rust, get scratched, or even come totally off, leaving no way for anyone who finds the dog to find you. More and more pet owners are opting to up their chances of recovering a lost pet by having their veterinarian implant an identifying microchip.

Exactly what is a microchip?
A microchip is a tiny computer chip–about the size of a grain of rice–that your vet can implant between your pet’s shoulder blades. Each microchip has a unique number, which is entered in an international database. Veterinary hospitals, animal shelters and humane societies have microchip readers, scanners that can quickly be run over the dog’s shoulder blades, allowing the scanner to read your dog’s individual microchip number. The number allows the person scanning your dog to know which database your pet is registered with. They can then call a toll-free number, and the database will match your pet’s number with your name and phone number so you can be contacted.

Is it truly a permanent method of identification?
Yes, one microchip should last for your pet’s lifetime, and once you have sent in the initial registration, your only future responsibility is keeping the registry informed of any changes in your contact numbers. Although a properly implanted chip cannot be lost or damaged, very rarely a microchip will migrate. It is a good idea to have your veterinarian scan your dog each year when they go for their annual exam, to make sure that the chip is still in the correct location.

Is microchipping a new practice?
No, microchipping pets has been a common practice in Canada and Great Britain for many years, and becomes more and more popular each year in the United States. These tiny computer chips are actually quite amazing, as they can hold large amounts of information. There is no worry about duplicate numbers, as there are so many possible combinations that there are billions of identification numbers available–more than enough to make sure each pet has a unique number.

Will it hurt your pet?
No, the procedure is simple and fairly painless, not requiring any anesthesia. It is much like getting a vaccination and most animals show absolutely no reaction at all.

Worried about cost?At the time of this writing, the average cost to have a microchip implanted falls between $25 and $50. Some veterinarians discount this rate if it is being done at the same time as the pet is being spayed, or put under anesthesia for something routine such as dental work. Humane societies in some areas also offer microchip clinics from time to time, much like a rabies clinic, where the procedure may be offered for as little as $10 or $15.

There may also be a small one-time fee to register your information with the database, but in the long run, the microchip process is still much less expensive than all the things you would need to do if your pet was lost without any identification.

Are there any downsides?
The only downside to a microchip is that this form of identification will not work unless your pet is taken to someone who has a scanner. Animal shelters and veterinarians are offered the microchip readers for free, or for a very small fee, so 99% of them have readers available. If your pet is picked up by an individual who is not familiar with microchips (and thus does not take your pet in to be scanned) then of course your dog cannot be identified through their chip. This is why it is still recommended that all dogs wear collars with ID tags. Your microchip should also come with a tag for your dog’s collar, which has a toll-free number listed. If someone should find your dog and call that number, they can call this number and give the identifying number on the tag.

Should your pet become lost, be sure to notify your microchip provider. Some will send out an e-mail alert to animal shelters, veterinary clinics and other members of their network that are within a 25 mile radius of where your pet was lost (this is sent out immediately when you call them to tell them the pet is lost). They may also have available a Lost Pet Poster service and other benefits.

The advantages to a microchip far outweigh any inconvenience or minor expense. To find out more, give your veterinarian’s office a call today.

Source: Adapted from the American Animal Hospital Association