Nobody wants to lose a pet, and microchips purport to return lost pets to their owners. Do they really work? Can they injure your pet? Does a veterinarian have to be involved? Somerset Animal Hospital strongly recommends microchipping, so read on for our answers to these and other questions about microchips.

#1: How does a microchip work?

A microchip, also known as a transponder, is a rice-sized electronic device that can be implanted into living tissue—in your pet, the chip is inserted close under the skin near their shoulder blades. Each microchip contains a unique identification number, which a scanner at a veterinary hospital or animal shelter can reveal.

#2: Can a microchip identify my lost pet’s location?

The microchip is not a GPS unit, and cannot locate missing pets. A lost dog or cat who is found needs to be taken to a facility that has a scanner to obtain the chip’s identification number. This number can then be matched up to the owner’s contact information (i.e., address, phone number, and email) held by a data registry.            

#3: How does the registry work?

The pet’s owner is responsible for keeping their registry information current and accurate, because the chip is of no use without the correct details. Failure to update information is the most common reason microchipped pets and owners cannot be reunited. We recommend confirming your contact information with the microchip registry once a year. If you relocate to a new home, update the listing as soon as possible, since pets are more likely to become lost during a move.

#4: Is it true that sometimes the microchips can’t be read?

In rare cases, microchips cease functioning, but more commonly, the scanner cannot activate the microchip. A scanner must emit an appropriate radio wave frequency, but microwave chips in the United States use several different frequencies, so incompatible scanners and microchips were problematic until universal scanners were developed. Universal scanners, which more and more animal facilities now use, emit all frequencies and can read any microchip. 

#5: How successful are microchips in reuniting lost pets and owners?

Several studies have demonstrated microchips’ effectiveness in returning lost animals to their owners. One study that evaluated several thousand animals brought to shelters found that 38% of microchipped cats went home, but only 2% of cats without microchips were returned to their owners. Similarly, 51% of microchipped dogs went back home, while 16% of dogs without chips were reunited with their owners. However, remember, microchips are not substitutes for pet collars with up-to-date identification and rabies tags.  

#6: Must a microchip be inserted by a veterinarian using a large needle?

While veterinary involvement is not the law, a veterinarian is more likely to insert the microchip correctly and ensure the number is recorded properly in the pet’s permanent medical record, increasing the likelihood the microchip will work as intended. Microchipping does require a larger needle than vaccinations, but proper injection rarely causes much discomfort, no matter the pet’s size. Incorrect placement can be painful and lead to the microchip being expelled or functioning incorrectly. Anesthesia is not required for microchipping, which can be performed during a routine veterinary visit, although some pet owners prefer that the procedure be performed while the pet is anesthetized for a spay or neuter.

#7: Have microchips caused cancer in some pets?

One study that involved 3.7 million animals identified only 391 cases where microchips had a negative effect, with most involving microchip migration away from the insertion site. Cancer cases were rare, and the extremely small risk needs to be measured against the greater likelihood of a beloved pet becoming lost. 

#8: Does my indoor cat need a microchip?

We recommend all pets, including indoor cats, be microchipped. Although you may be careful not to let your cat out, a guest or child may inadvertently leave a door or window open. Then, a microchip will help ensure you and your favorite feline are reunited. 

At Somerset Animal Hospital, we strongly encourage microchipping for all pets, because we want to increase the likelihood that you and your much-loved missing pet will be reunited. If you have more questions about microchips or you’d like to make an appointment for one of our veterinarians to microchip your pet, contact us.