Microchipping 101

October 27, 2020 | 12:54 PM

You may have recently heard the heartwarming story of Sasha the cat, who wandered away from her home in Portland, Oregon, and ended up at an animal shelter in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Thankfully, Sasha was microchipped. A quick phone call reunited Sasha with her loving owner after five long years away from home. Sasha’s story shows just how important it is to microchip your pet – in a 2009 study, only 22% of lost dogs and 2% of lost cats without a microchip were reunited with their owners.  Microchipping your pet is a quick and easy way to ensure that your pet is linked back to you.

A microchip is an electronic implant, about the size of a grain of rice, that is placed under the skin between the shoulder blades. Microchips act as a lifelong permanent identifier. Each microchip has a unique ID number, which can be read by a microchip scanner, like a barcode. This unique ID number is registered into a database and can be linked to owner information such as address and phone number. If your pet ends up in a shelter or veterinary clinic, they will be scanned for a microchip.

Microchipping can be performed by a veterinarian or appropriately trained animal care staff. Microchips are most commonly placed while the pet is being spayed or neutered, since a large needle is used for insertion, but can also be inserted during a regular visit while the pet is awake. Side effects are minimal; occasionally, a small amount of blood may be noticed around the insertion site. Longer term problems can include microchip migration, technology errors, swelling, and infection. However, the reported overall complication rate is less than 0.01%. You may be able to feel your pet’s microchip under the skin; this is very normal. Your veterinarian can help you identify where the microchip is. In fact, if you are unsure if your pet is microchipped, you can have them scanned at their next visit. Occasionally, rescues or shelters will place microchips before adopting out an animal. Paperwork from the adoption should indicate if your pet is microchipped, but this can always be confirmed by your veterinarian.

Once your pet is microchipped, it is important to regularly update your contact information in the microchip database. The microchip itself does not contain any information outside of the unique ID number. If that number is not associated with up-to-date owner information in the database, it will be difficult to link your pet back to you. Unfortunately, the microchip does not work as a GPS locator (this is a common misconception!), so your pet cannot be located without being scanned. If you ever find a stray animal or encounter a suspected owned dog that got loose on a hike, it is recommended that you bring them to a shelter or veterinarian to be scanned (also be sure you report the lost animal to your local shelter). If a microchip is found, the database will be searched for owner contact information.

Microchips are occasionally required for travel into certain countries. Import regulations can be complicated, however, so be sure to contact your veterinarian well before your anticipated travel date. Even if you are traveling domestically, or to a location that does not require a microchip, it still might be a good idea to get your pet microchipped before you travel, in case of unexpected circumstances.

In short, microchipping is a quick, simple way to ensure that your pet can be linked to your personal information. Should your pet ever wander away from home, a microchip will help them find their way back to you.