Microchips Don’t Work on a Cute Cat: A Cautionary Tale
True or false: If your cat has a microchip, you’ll be able to find them if they ever get lost.
That’s the whole point of a microchip, right?
Well, yes. But the answer is: False.
A microchip is one tool that can help you get reunited with a missing pet. But it doesn’t guarantee your pet’s safe return home if they get lost. There are actually a lot of situations in which a microchip won’t help you at all.
No, this isn’t a Halloween horror story. It’s a cautionary tale about why you shouldn’t rely on just a microchip to keep your cat (or any other pet) safe.
Meet Katy Flatt, and Her 2 Cats, Kaleo and Dara
Katy Flatt has had two cats in her life: Kaleo, a grumpy old man of a black cat, and Dara, the most adorable calico kitten in the world.
Katy had Kaleo and Dara at different times in her life, but they have a lot of similarities. They were both rescues. They were both microchipped. They both got lost. And neither of them ever came home.
When Katy moved into her first apartment after college, she longed for a dog. But with a small home and workdays that lasted 10 to 18 hours, she knew adopting a dog wouldn’t fit her lifestyle. Instead, she volunteered at a local animal shelter to feed her fix.
That’s when she met Kaleo.
“He just sat up on the counter, watching the other cats, and occasionally letting go a meow that seemed to say, ‘Get these damn kids off my porch,’” Katy said. “I loved him immediately. “
And so Katy brought Kaleo home, and later, when she moved in with her friend Kendall, Kaleo came too. There was just one problem: Kendall didn’t love animals, and she especially didn’t love some of Kaleo’s quirks, like throwing up to get attention.
Just a few weeks after moving into the new apartment, Kendall put Kaleo outside while Katy was at work. He wasn’t an outside cat, and this was a whole new home.
“I was livid,” Katy said. “But I figured, Kal is microchipped and I have all of his information up to date. In fact, I have another friend of mine listed as a backup in case someone has trouble getting a hold of me. I called some vets to check around for a while, but they came up empty and no one called me to report my found cat.”
Katy never saw Kaleo again.
After the heartbreaking loss of Kaleo, Katy didn’t know if she was ready for another cat. But that all changed when Kendall came home with a cat carrier.
“Someone at work had found this little cat and asked who wanted to help it,” Katy said. “Kendall couldn’t help herself.”
Inside the carrier was a tiny, fluffy calico kitten. A trip to the vet revealed that this kitten-sized fluff ball was actually at least a year old, and that malnutrition and worms had stunted the poor kitty’s growth. Katy nursed her back to health and called her Dara. Remembering the heartbreak she’d been through when Kaleo got lost, she made sure to get Dara a microchip, too.
Katy had no way of knowing that history would repeat itself. It happened soon after she moved to a new city, into a duplex with three roommates. Katy was at work when one of the roommates let Dara outside.
“I don’t know the answer to this one. I don’t really know why they let her out,” Katy said. “She wasn’t an outside cat. None of the cats in the house were outside cats. I occasionally let her out with me on the back deck when I was with her and she would sit with me, but the idea of just letting her out to run around for a few hours and hope she comes back was nothing I ever intended to do.”
Heartbreakingly, Katy never saw Dara again.
“I never had a chance with Dara. She was a beautiful, permanently small, soft, loving cat. She had no limit to how many pets and cuddles she could take and she loved people and food. Really, anyone could have opened their door, saw Dara, and brought her into their home forever,” she said. “I assume this is what happened. Either way, I hope Dara is having the most wonderful life with her new family.”
Both Cats Had Microchips, So What Went Wrong?
Katy knew the pain and heartbreak of losing a pet. That’s why she made sure to get Dara microchipped. But Kaleo was microchipped, too. Microchips didn’t help Katy reunite with either of her lost cats. But why?
4 Times When a Microchip Won’t Help You Find Your Lost Pet
It turns out, there are a lot of scenarios in which a microchip won’t help you find your lost pet. These are more common than you think, and a lot of them stem from misconceptions and misinformation about how microchips actually work.
The Microchip Registry Is Missing Details
What many people don’t realize about microchips is that they don’t actually contain any contact information. All that’s on the microchip is an ID number, which can be linked to a registry with information like your name, address, phone number, and your pet’s medical needs.
That means that any time you move or your phone number changes, you need to update the microchip registry. And that’s provided you ever added your information to it in the first place — when you adopt a new pet, somewhere in the pile of paperwork is instructions for submitting your information to their microchip company. It’s easy to miss.
To make things even worse, some microchip companies make it difficult and time-consuming to update your contact information. Some even charge steep fees.
Taking all that into account, it’s no wonder so many microchips contain outdated information that won’t help owners reunite with their missing pets.
Your Pet Was Stolen (Even If It Happened Accidentally or With Good Intentions)
Another situation in which a microchip won’t help you recover your lost pet is if your pet was intentionally taken by a thief. Pet theft is something that happens, especially if you have a valuable purebred — or even just a particularly cute pup or cat.
Here’s the worse part: It’s possible for your pet to be stolen accidentally, even by someone with the best of intentions. Remember what Katy said she thought happened to Dara? If your pet gets lost, someone might think he or she is a stray, and just take them home without ever even checking for a microchip. Or they might check the microchip, and decide to keep your pet anyway. It was lost, after all. That makes some people think they’re entitled to keeping an animal.
Whoever Finds Your Pet Doesn’t Know Microchips Need to be Scanned
On that note, it’s entirely possible that someone finds your pet, has all the best intentions about getting it back to its owner, but just doesn’t know how microchips work.
A lot of people think you can track your pet with a microchip, but that’s just not true. Microchips don’t emit any kind of signal. They won’t show you where your pet is on a map. They won’t help you actually locate your pet while they’re lost.
How microchips actually work is with radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology. When a microchip scanner is passed over the microchip, it provides it with just enough power to transmit the ID number it contains. That ID number can then be used to look up the owner’s information (provided their information is correct and up-to-date on the microchip registry).
Most vet’s offices and animal shelters have a microchip scanner, so they can read a lost animal’s microchip and retrieve the owner’s contact information. But for that to happen, the person who finds the lost pet needs to actually know the microchip needs to be scanned, and take the animal somewhere to have it done. Unfortunately, many people don’t know this, and lost pets don’t always get their microchips scanned because of it.
No One Ever Finds Or Catches Your Missing Pet
And finally, because microchips don’t allow you to actually track your pet’s location, it won’t help you be reunited with your missing pet if no one ever finds or catches them. It’s possible for your pet to live as a stray, join a feral colony, or get injured, sick, or killed while lost, and in these cases, a microchip won’t help you learn what happened.