If you’re a new dog or cat owner, it’s likely your veterinarian–or, if your little friend is a rescue, a staff member at the shelter you adopted him from–has asked if you’d like to have your pet microchipped. This may sound a bit strange to those who haven’t had a pet in the family during the past decade or so, but this procedure has become as commonplace as spaying, neutering and vaccinating.
Home sweet home
A microchip is a tiny, rice-sized RFID (radio-frequency identification) chip, enclosed in a glass cylinder, that is painlessly injected under your pet’s skin using a hypodermic needle. They are typically implanted between the shoulders or somewhere on the flank. When a specialized scanner is passed over it, the chip transmits a unique identification number (UIN) that can be read and displayed by the device.
Typically, when an animal is handed over to a humane society, shelter or veterinarian, they will scan the pet to see if it has been microchipped and note the UIN. This number can then be traced to any one of several manufacturers, who maintain registration databases with contact information, including addresses and phone numbers, associated with each unit. They can then let the owner know about the pet’s whereabouts so it can be retrieved and taken home.
Some owners might wonder why they need to do this, especially if their pet has ID tags or wears a personalized collar with contact information, or otherwise spends most of his time in the house or yard. If your pet escapes or gets frightened away from home for some reason, it might take some time to find them. Meanwhile, if your pet slips out of his collar or somehow loses it along the way, it will become harder for someone to contact you if your little friend ends up in your hands.
The other reason microchipping makes sense, as we noted in “4 Ways to Protect Your Pet from Thieves,” is that it is difficult for someone who steals your loved one to hide where they got him from. They could easily toss a collar in the garbage, but getting rid of a chip embedded under the animal’s skin would require more effort and risk “damaging the goods,” so to speak, in some way.
Safety of microchipping
In truth, there a few things to worry about and most animals aren’t even aware that they have a chip embedded. Moreover, the odds of something going wrong during or after insertion are extremely low. In very rare cases, a small abscess may form at the site of the injection due to the size of the needle, but this can generally be corrected with oral antibiotics or a quick aspiration. But that tends to be the extent of the issue.
Indeed, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association, for instance, has found that out of four million animals who were microchipped over a period of more than two decades, less than 400 had adverse reactions, mainly because the chips had migrated away from their implantation site. The larger concern in this case is that the chip will not be found, but most animal professionals scan the entire body to minimize this risk. Otherwise, these RFID chips are completely safe for use in homes where people may be sensitive to radio signals or electromagnetic pulses.
Registering your pet
After your pet has been microchipped, you will be provided with a pamphlet or given instructions on what you need to do to ensure it is properly registered. Simply implanting the unit into your pet is not enough. You must contact the manufacturer and give them your name, address, telephone and other details so they can add it to their database and associate it with the UIN. This will enable them to get in touch with you if your pet goes missing.
While some companies will record your details for free, some charge a one-time registration or yearly fee, depending on their business models, or will require that you pay an additional amount to change your details if your address or other details change. Keep in mind that those firms that bill you annually will not simply delete your data simply because you didn’t make a payment on time. Your best bet is to raise any questions or concerns you might have when you register with the manufacturer.
When the end comes
It’s a sad fact of life that our pets usually pass away long before we do. Microchipping your pet does not in any way make it harder to provide them with a proper burial or have them cremated. In fact, most microchips will eventually dissolve over time in the event of a burial, or will melt or disappear during cremation. Given its small size and simple structure, should have no impact at all on any personal decisions you might make during such a tender time.
All in all, microchipping has few drawbacks and could end up saving your pet’s life. Nevertheless, because there are many different manufacturers out there, you will likely want to learn more about the pros and cons of choosing one over another. Contact your veterinarian to find out which ones might best fit your needs.