National “Check the Chip Day” is August 15

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, accidents happen. Someone leaves a fence gate open, your pooch slips out the door when you’re bringing in groceries, your cat climbs the fence to go visit the neighbors: all unintentional, but your pet escapes and gets lost, now what do you do? If your pet is wearing a collar and ID tags, your chances of getting her back are good. However, if the collar is missing or the ID tags outdated, you may never see your animal again.

Many pet parents and veterinarians recommend identification microchips implanted under your animal’s skin by your vet or your local shelter to help you get your furbaby back home. These tiny transponders (about the size of a grain of rice) record your pet’s personal registration number and the phone number of the registry for that particular brand of chip. An animal shelter or vet clinic that finds your pet can contact the registry to get your name and phone number.

Why should my pet be microchipped?

Microchipping your pet makes it much more likely that you’ll get your animal back if it becomes lost.

A 2009 study in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reported that of 7700 stray animals located at animal shelters nationwide, dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9 percent of the time, while those with microchips made it home 52.2 percent of the time. Cats without microchips were reunited with their owners only 1.8 percent of the time, whereas microchipped cats went back home 38.5% of the time. Those microchipped animals that were returned to their owners were found to have incorrect owner information – or no owner information – in the registry database.

How is the microchip installed in my pet?

Typically, the chip is injected under the subcutaneous layer of skin on you pet’s shoulder or between the shoulder blades using a needle specially designed to fit that particular chip and to set it properly. It is no more painful than a typical injection, although the needle is slightly larger than those used for injections. Microchips are to be implanted under supervision by a veterinarian, because veterinarians know where the microchips should be placed, know how to place them, and know how to recognize the signs of a problem and treat one if it occurs.

Once the microchip is implanted, there is really no need for further maintenance, although you will need to register the chip yourself and keep all the pertinent information updated in the registration database.

How does the microchip work?

The microchip does not have a battery – it is activated by a scanner that is passed over the area, and the radio waves put out by the scanner activate the chip. The chip transmits your pet’s identification number to the scanner, which displays the number on the screen. The microchip itself is also called a transponder.

When an animal is found and taken to a shelter or veterinary clinic, one of the first things they do is scan your animal for a microchip. The identification number is then matched through the registry database to your current contact information so that you can be phoned or emailed as to the whereabouts of your pet.

Are there differences in microchips?

The frequency of a microchip actually refers to the frequency of the radio wave given off by the scanner that activates and reads the microchip. Examples of microchip frequencies used in the U.S. include 125 kiloHertz (kHz), 128 kHz, and 134.2 kHz.

However, the International Standards Organization, or ISO, has approved and recommended a global standard for microchips. The global standard is intended to create an identification system that is consistent worldwide. For example, if a dog was implanted with an ISO standard microchip in the US travels to Europe with its owners and becomes lost, the ISO standard scanners in Europe would be able to read the dog’s microchip. If the dog was implanted with a non-ISO microchip and the ISO scanner was not forward- and backward-reading (universal), the dog’s microchip might not be detected or be read by the scanner.

Forward-reading scanners only detect 134.2 kHz (ISO standard) microchips, but will not detect 125 kHz or 128 kHz (non-ISO standard) microchips – like some of those found in this country. Universal scanners, those seen in the ISO system, detect all microchip frequencies. The main advantage of universal scanners is the improved chances of detecting and reading a microchip, regardless of the frequency. It also eliminates the need for multiple scanners with multiple frequencies.

Remember, microchips are great for tamper-proof, permanent identification, but nothing replaces a collar with up-to-date identification tags. If your pet is wearing a collar with tags when it’s lost, it’s often a very quick process to read the tag and find your contact information; however, the information on the tags needs to be accurate and up-to-date. But if your pet is not wearing a collar and tags, or if the collar is lost or removed, then the presence of a microchip might be the only way your pet can ever be returned to you.

Have questions about microchipping your pet?  Let us know!

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