A week after his beloved cat, Cutie Pie, went missing, a heartbroken Theron went to a Bangor, Maine, shelter in hopes of finding a new best friend to help him heal.
But when he stopped to take a closer look at one of the cats in the shelter, Theron was overjoyed to realize it was his Cutie Pie.
But as much as we love to see a story of a lost pet reuniting with its owner, Theron and Cutie Pie were very lucky. Theron happened to be at the shelter at just the right time to find his missing pet, and the odds of that happening if your pet ever goes missing just aren’t good.
What Theron should have done is microchip his beloved cat. Then, the shelter could have contacted him as soon as Cutie Pie came into their care.
If you have a pet, you’ve likely wondered at some point, how do pet microchips work? And more importantly, you might be wondering if your pet needs a microchip. We have all the answers you need to keep your beloved pets safe — read on to learn more.
What Is a Microchip?
A microchip is a tiny, implantable device that can be inserted under your pet’s skin. It’s usually put into their back near the base of their neck.
Pet microchips are about the size of a grain of rice — so small, they can be inserted without any anesthetic. They typically come preloaded in a syringe-type device that a veterinarian can use to inject the chip into the correct position, very similar to your pet receiving a vaccine.
Pet microchips are RFID devices, which stands for Radio Frequency Identification. It’s the same kind of technology as what’s used to make the scannable chip inside a credit or debit card. RFID chips have no batteries, no electricity, and no moving parts. They receive a small amount of power from a scanning device when they’re read, and use that power to transmit a small amount of information. In the case of your pet’s microchip, an electronic ID number is transmitted.
How Do Pet Microchips Work
Here’s how microchips help reunite lost pets with their owners, step by step.
Step 1: The Microchip Is Inserted
A veterinarian or vet tech will insert the microchip, which comes preloaded into a syringe-like device. The microchip comes already programmed with an ID number, which cannot be changed.
Step 2: The Microchip Is Registered
The owner of the microchipped pet must contact the microchip manufacturer to provide their contact information to be connected with the chip’s ID number.
Step 3: The Microchip Is Scanned
If the microchipped pet ever goes missing, it can be taken to a vet’s office or a shelter to have its microchip scanned. A special scanner is used that provides enough power to the RFID chip as it passes over it to retrieve the pet’s ID number, and manufacturer information for the microchip.
Step 4: The Owner’s Contact Information Is Retrieved
Whoever scanned the microchip can then contact the manufacturer with the chip’s ID number. The manufacturer will provide whatever contact information they have in their database associated with that microchip ID number. If the contact information is up-to-date, the owner can be contacted and let know their pet has been found.
What Are the Pros and Cons of Pet Microchips?
If you’re wondering how do pet microchips work, odds are you’re considering getting a microchip for your pet. Here are the pros and cons of microchipping that every pet owner should consider before taking this step.
Pros of Pet Microchips
Some of the pros of pet microchips are:
- They’re non-invasive. Inserting a microchip is a simple, nearly painless procedure for your pet.
- They never need to be charged or replaced. Once a microchip is inserted, it’s designed to work for your pet’s entire life.
Cons of Pet Microchips
On the other hand, pet microchips have some downsides. These are:
- Prices for microchipping can vary. Many rescue pets from shelters come with microchips, but then it’s up to the owner to keep their contact information up-to-date, which can be annoying and time-consuming. Some microchip manufacturers even charge expensive fees for changing the contact information in their databases.
- Microchips will only help you reunite with your lost pet after someone finds them, and only if that person knows to take them to a vet’s office or shelter to have the chip scanned.
- In rare cases, microchips can migrate under your pet’s skin and become unscannable.
Frequently Asked Questions About Pet Microchips
Still have questions about pet microchips? We have answers. These are some of the most frequently asked questions about how pet microchips work, and more.
Can I Program a Microchip to Contain My Contact Information?
No. Unfortunately, microchips are manufactured with only one piece of information contained in them: Their ID number. Occasionally, they’ll also include a phone number for the company that keeps the database of ID numbers.
Because the technology used in a pet microchip isn’t very advanced, you can’t change the information that’s programmed into the chip. You can only change the information that’s associated with the ID number, and to do so, you’ll have to contact the company that manufactured the chip.
Does a Pet Microchip Contain a Tracking Device?
No again. Microchips are different from pet trackers. They don’t emit any trackable signal, and they can’t help you locate where a lost pet is the way a GPS or bluetooth tracker can. A microchip works passively to help reunite lost pets with their owners — it can help the owner find their pet, but only after the pet has been found by someone else and taken to have its microchip scanned.
Can a Microchip Store My Pet’s Important Medical Information?
It’s even scarier for pet lovers when animals with important medical needs go missing. Like we’ve said previously in this article, a microchip only stores a single ID number — not the owner’s contact information and not the pet’s medical information.
However, some microchip companies will allow you to include important medical information alongside your contact information in their microchip registries. You’ll have to contact your pet’s microchip company to find out if it’s possible to include this or any other information.
Does a Microchip Really Make It More Likely a Lost Pet Will Reunite With its Owner?
Absolutely! A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association looked at nearly 8,000 missing animal cases and found that:
- Lost dogs without microchips were returned to their owners only 21.9 percent of the time, while lost dogs with microchips were reunited with their owners 52.2 percent of the time.
- Lost cats without microchips were reunited with their owners only 1.8 percent of the time, but lost cats with microchips were returned to their owners 38.5 percent of the time.
Is a Microchip a Good Replacement for ID Tags and Rabies Tags?
No! Even if your pet has a microchip that you make sure to keep up to date, they should still have an ID tag and rabies tags. There are a number of reasons for this:
- If someone finds your lost pet, they may not know they have to take it to have its microchip scanned. In this case, an ID tag will be the best way for them to know this is someone’s missing pet and not a stray.
- Rabies tags display vital medical information that proves your pet is up-to-date on its rabies vaccine. In some places, the law requires pets to have a rabies tag on display.
- It’s always possible for microchips to malfunction, or for scanners to not be able to pick them up. In that case, having an ID tag provides another way to find you.
Can I Insert a Pet Microchip Myself?
Inserting a microchip may seem like a simple process — it’s just like a vaccine, right? Wrong. It’s extremely important for a microchip to be placed in just the right spot, so scanners will be able to pick it up. If it’s inserted too deeply, it can become undetectable — or cause health problems for your pet. Inserting a microchip is a job best left to the pros.
Why Are Microchips Sometimes Not Found?
Like we’ve mentioned, microchips are designed to stay in place and work for the entire length of your pet’s life. But like anything else in life, things can go wrong. It’s always possible for a microchip to malfunction. It can also migrate in your pet’s body, moving to a place where it can’t be scanned. Microchips are a great tool, but they’re not 100 percent foolproof (more on that below).
Does My Pet Need a Microchip?
Yes! A microchip is a great way for lost pets and their owners to be reunited. But a microchip alone isn’t enough.