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  • Writer's pictureLiz Blackman, Founder of Help4Pets, Inc.

To Microchip or Not to Microchip Your Pet…That Is the Question

The answer is YES! For the love of Dog, YES!

A microchip being implanted between the shoulder blades of a dog.

Here's the best reason:

A microchip can make the difference between getting your pet back or losing them forever if they're ever lost and found without their ID tag. It can also be very helpful if you ever need to provide proof that your pet is yours.

Full disclosure: Imagine I'm holding up my right hand right now and promising you that my company and I have zero affiliation of any kind with any microchip company; we don't, so help me Dog.

If I've gotten you past the headline and this far, whohoo! I get it; microchips may not be your idea of a scintillating subject. Or maybe you think you already know all you need to know. Well, as a peer-respected wonk and self-confessed geek on this topic, I'm here to tell you that what you don't know, and what you may think you know, could cost you and your pet dearly. Please, for pet's sake, read on. And if you get to the end of this and don't think it was worth the read, I'll eat a dog treat.

A closeup image of a pet microchip next to the needle used to insert it.

Q: How do pet microchips work?

A: Probably not how you think they do, if you've even given them any thought, and almost certainly not in all the ways you hope they do.

Do you think a microchip has GPS capability? Think it's automatically registered with your contact information when you leave the vet's office, adopt a pet or go to a breeder? Think it's a one-and-done deal that you never have to think about again?

Think again.

Pet microchips do not work like GPS for locating missing pets.

Pet microchips use a technology known as RFID (radio frequency identification) and, simply put, this means that the microchip stores information that can only be accessed by a person operating a scanning device, a microchip reader. The microchip in its casing is roughly the size of a grain of rice and is injected by a veterinary professional or a trained rescue person or breeder under the pet's skin, between their shoulders. When the scanner is passed over the pet's skin, the microchip sends out a radio frequency signal that results in a unique ID code that is detected by the scanner - not your contact information, not even a phone number, just a unique ID number. The person scanning your pet will then need to contact the company associated with your pet's microchip to find out how to contact you.

So, no, pet microchips are not GPS devices that magically work like some kind of "come-out-come-out-wherever-you-are" tool if your pet goes missing or is hiding under the bed to avoid a bath. Not judging, and I'm not sure I really want to know the answer, but GPS systems require a pretty big, pretty strong battery; where do people who think that microchips work like GPS for pets think the battery goes?

Moving on. Now that you know all you really need to know about how microchip technology works, here's what you need to do to make sure your pet's microchip will work when you and your pet need it most.

A cat being professionally scanned to check for a microchip.

Always check the registration

Simply having your pet microchipped, or adopting or purchasing a pet who has already been microchipped, does not ensure that the microchip has been registered to you. And you absolutely want to be the person who is called first if your pet is found.

So, as I said, the information that comes up on the microchip scanner is not your contact information; it's a unique number that will tell the person scanning your pet which microchip company to call so you can be alerted that your pet has been found. If you haven't properly registered your pet with that microchip company, or kept your contact information up to date if it has changed, it can make it impossible to ever reunite you with your pet.

A telephone pole with a Lost Dog poster tacked to it.

The possible consequences

Many lost pets who have a microchip are never reunited with their person(s) because their microchip was never properly or completely registered. It's one of the saddest, most frustrating, problems that those of us in the animal welfare world face and it's far too common. The good news is that it's a problem that is easily avoidable.

Take the time to verify and make a record of the info

Make sure your pet's microchip is registered to you and keep a record of your pet's microchip number in your phone in case you ever need to update your contact information or report your pet missing.

If you're taking your pet to be microchipped, ask to have the chip scanned after it's been inserted so you can see that it's working. Then, take a photo of the scanner display with your pet's unique ID number so you can be absolutely certain that you have the correct microchip number. Keep that photo in your phone for future use…just in case. If your pet is already microchipped, take them to any veterinary office and ask the front-desk staff if they could scan your pet for you so you can make note of your pet's microchip number. Then, take a photo of the scanner. If they won't help you for free, shame on them. Tell them you're considering becoming a client and you'd appreciate the favor; that should change their tune.

Keep all records handy.

In a safe place at home and also on your phone, keep the following records for each pet:

A. The company their microchip is registered with

B. The microchip ID number

C. The company’s phone number

You'll need this info if you need to update your contact information and you'll want to be able to call it immediately if you need to report your pet missing or temporarily update your contact information in an emergency such as a natural disaster. Trust me, you will not want to hope you can find your pet's microchip records in an emergency. THE TIME TO PREPARE IS BEFORE YOU NEED IT.

Now that you know your pet's microchip number, visit and confirm the name of the company that is affiliated with your pet's microchip.

This is the site that animal shelters, rescue organizations and veterinary offices use regularly when they scan a pet and they don't immediately recognize which company to call based on one of the more well-known microchip prefix numbers. And you can use it, too. Call the company that comes up for your pet's microchip number and check to make sure that the information they have for you is accurate and up to date.

Congratulations! You're now a junior pet-microchip expert.

But hold on; does your pet have a standard ID tag with your phone number? Remember, this is always the fastest, easiest way to find you if your pet has been found because it's visible on your pet. The microchip is backup protection. Relying on your pet's microchip and foregoing the ID tag would be like getting in your car and skipping the seat belt because your car has airbags. Seat belts and airbags protect you in different ways; you need both. An ID tag and microchip protect your pet in different ways; they need both, too.

For added, essential pet protection, check out today.

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