As you prepare to enjoy the Fourth of July weekend, you’re probably stocking up on hot dogs, streamers, flags and patriotic accessories. But there’s one more thing pet parents need to add to their list of preparations: microchip your pet!
Statistics show that more pets go missing on the Fourth of July than at any other time of the year. The booming fireworks, banging firecrackers and sizzling sparklers can easily overwhelm your best furiend.
Frantic pets are known to jump fences, dig holes, destroy barriers and tear through window screens in their desperation to escape the chaos — and if you’re distracted by the holiday festivities, you may not even realize it until your best pal is in the wind.
That’s why July is National Lost Pet Prevention Month. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 1 in 3 pets will go missing at some point in their lifetime. Sadly, most lost pets never find their way back home.
But there are steps you can take to change that. Pet microchips represent a quick and safe way to more than double your best furiend’s chances of being returned to you!
Microchips Bring Fur-Babies Home
You don’t have to look far to find examples of happy reunions that would not have been possible without a microchip.
Dogs and cats that ran away or even were stolen…long-lost beloved pets whom their parents thought they would never see again…thousands and thousands of lost souls have been returned to their rightful homes weeks, months or even years later, all thanks to the power of a tiny microchip!
It may feel redundant to get your pet microchipped when they are already wearing a collar with ID tags, but experts recommend you have both. With your information easily readable on a tag, any Good Samaritan who finds your lost pet can contact you, and you won’t have to wait until your pet is brought to a shelter or vet and has their chip scanned.
However, collars can be lost, damaged or even deliberately removed — and that’s when the microchip is crucial. A microchip cannot be removed or tampered with, and they provide strong evidence of ownership if someone tries to pass off your pet as their own.
In short, a pet microchip is the most effective way to bring your lost dog or cat home.
In 2009, Ohio State University ran a comprehensive study on the reunion rate of thousands of pets taken into shelters — with some very striking results.
They found that:
73% of owners of stray dogs and cats that had a microchip were found (74% for dogs and 63.5% for cats).
74% of the owners actually wanted their animals back (76% for dogs and 61% for cats).
The median return to owner rates for the shelters were 2.4 times higher for dogs with a microchip than all stray dogs (52.2% vs. 21.9%) and 21.4 times higher for cats with a microchip than all stray cats (38.5% vs. 1.8%).
The main reasons that owners weren’t found included incorrect or disconnected phone numbers (35.4 percent), owners’ failure to return phone calls or respond to letters (24.3 percent), unregistered microchips (9.8 percent) or microchips registered in a database that differed from the manufacturer (17.2 percent).
That’s right; this study found that dogs with a microchip are over twice as likely to be reunited with their owner. The numbers are even more staggering for cats — microchipped kitties are over twenty times more likely to go home in their owner’s arms!
In fact, as these statistics are now over ten years old and microchipping has become increasingly more common in that time, the results are probably even more striking now.
It’s now common practice for vets and shelters to scan all incoming strays multiple times to check for microchips, and more tools are available to help rescuers get into contact with owners.
The evidence is clear: a microchip puts the odds in your pet’s favor!
How Does a Pet Microchip Work?
What a Pet Microchip Does
A pet microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. It’s inserted into the subcutaneous tissue between your pet’s shoulder blades.
Unlike the kind of chip that controls a computer or cell phone, a pet microchip is “dormant” most of the time. It’s not running any kind of program, and it doesn’t give off a signal until it is scanned.
When the microchip is scanned, the scanner sends out a radio signal that briefly activates the chip. This prompts the microchip to transmit back its ID number and manufacturer.
And that’s it! It’s extremely simple technology. In fact, item scanners at the grocery store work the same way.
Essentially, a microchip is an invisible barcode on your pet!
What a Pet Microchip Does Not Do
A pet microchip is not a GPS tracker. It won’t broadcast your pet’s physical location, or communicate with your cell phone in any way.
A pet microchip does not need batteries, and it won’t “run out of power.” The microchip is only active for the brief moment when it is scanned, and is otherwise not transmitting anything.
Finally, a pet microchip does not store any information about you or your pet. It won’t transmit your pet’s name or health records, or your name or contact information. The only information contained on the microchip is its unique ID number and the name of the manufacturer — and that’s it.
Getting On the Same Wavelength
Because of the incredible benefits of pet microchips, many different companies quickly began manufacturing them once the concept caught on. However, this created the issue of standardization.
Because pet microchips aren’t regulated by law in the United States, different manufacturers created their microchips to transmit on different radio frequencies. Many microchips in the US transmit on a frequency of 125 kHz, but some transmit at 128 kHz, while most of the world (including all of Europe) uses 134.2 kHz.
This created obvious problems. For example, if you have Fido microchipped in the US with a 125 kHz microchip, then lose him while traveling in Europe, the scanners in the European shelters won’t detect your pup’s microchip if they are only programmed to scan at 134.2 kHz.
Even within the United States, not all shelters are able to scan at all frequencies, resulting in missed microchips — and missed reunions.
To attempt to resolve this, the International Standards Organization (ISO) has formally recommended that all microchips worldwide operate at 134.2 kHz, and most new microchips are made to that standard.
The problem has also been partially mitigated with the invention of universal scanners. As the AVMA explains:
“Forward-reading scanners only detect 134.2 kHz (ISO standard) microchips, but will not detect 125 kHz or 128 kHz (non-ISO standard) microchips. Universal scanners, also called forward- and backward-reading scanners, 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.”
Fortunately, the issue of non-standardized frequencies is less of a problem now than it used to be. Most new microchips are now made to the ISO standard of 134.2 kHz, and almost all shelters and vet clinics have universal scanners.
Still, it’s something for pet parents to keep in mind — especially if you travel to Europe, where pets are often required by law to have an ISO standard microchip.
If you know your pet’s microchip is non-ISO, it is perfectly fine to have an ISO microchip inserted as well. They won’t interfere with each other since they work on different frequencies, so there’s no reason to have the first one removed. (Just make sure they are both registered in the appropriate database!).
Check Your Chip
Once you’ve gone to the vet and gotten your pet a microchip, you may assume that your job is now done and Fido can be reunited with you if lost. In fact, there’s one final, critical step: register your microchip to yourself. The microchip’s ID number doesn’t help anyone if it’s not linked to you!
According to Linda Lord, the lead researcher in the 2009 Ohio State study:
“In the study, the biggest reason owners couldn’t be found was because of an incorrect or disconnected phone number in the registration database. The chip is only as good as my ability as a pet owner to keep my information up to date in the registry.”
Register your pet’s microchip…
Almost half of all microchipped pets in the study were either registered with incorrect contact information or weren’t registered at all. These owners loved their pets enough to get them microchipped, but sadly, they still couldn’t be reunited with their fur-babies.
Remember, the ID number contained in the microchip is not enough on its own. If a shelter scans a microchip which is unregistered, they have absolutely no way to contact you and let you know they’ve found your pet.
You don’t want to be just one phone call away from a happy reunion with your best furiend — and miss out on it because you forgot to take five minutes to register your chip!
…in the correct place…
It’s important to not only check if your pet’s microchip it’s registered, but also check where it’s registered. Each pet microchip manufacturer (including 24PetWatch, Peeva, AVID, HomeAgain and many others) maintains their own private database — and this can lead to problems.
As the animal welfare non-profit Michelson Found Animals explains:
“For example, if your pet has an AVID microchip, you can register it with HomeAgain and AKC. But here’s where this may cause a problem. Say your pet’s microchip is an AVID chip, and you register it with HomeAgain. If the shelter sees that your pet’s microchip is an AVID chip, they may call AVID to see if it is registered, and if they stop their search there, the other registrations may never be found. So unless they use AAHA’s pet microchip lookup tool to expand their search, your pet might never make it home, even though you kept your registration up to date.”
The American Animal Hospital Association’s microchip lookup tool is working to solve this problem. This tool is not a database itself, but it can confirm for vets or shelters if a microchip is registered somewhere, and point to which manufacturer to contact for further information.
But your pet’s microchip still has to be registered somewhere, with your correct info, in order for you and Fido to be reunited!
If you’re not sure where or if your pet’s microchip is registered, your vet can check for you at your next appointment. Also, there’s nothing stopping you from registering your microchip number and contact information with multiple databases as an extra precaution.
…and keep it up to date.
Let’s say that you’ve gotten your pet microchipped, and you’ve contacted the microchip’s manufacturer to register in their database. The microchip will never need to be replaced — so you’re set for life, right?
If you ever move, get a new phone number or a new email address, you’ll have to update your contact info in a variety of places. With so much to keep track of, your pet’s microchip is easy to forget about.
It’s advised to make a list now of “Places to Update My Info” that you can reference in case of a move or new phone. This list should include contacting your bank, your credit cards, your driver’s license…and your pet’s microchip manufacturer!
Keeping your registration updated is the only ongoing “maintenance” your pet’s microchip will ever need. That’s why the American Veterinary Medical Association has named August 15th as National Check the Chip Day, reminding pet parents to verify whether their pet’s microchip is correctly registered and up to date.
Pet Microchips FAQ
Does it hurt to get a microchip put in?
Not at all. A microchip is inserted with a needle, and to your pet it will feel just like another vaccination. It doesn’t require any anesthesia and can be done at any time, including a routine vet visit.
There’s also no age limit on when pets can be microchipped. A puppy or kitten can be microchipped easily, as can an old or elderly pet.
Of course, like with any injection, your pet may be momentarily surprised by the needle — but as soon as you distract them with a few of their favorite treats, they’ll immediately forget all about it!
Can a microchip cause allergic reactions or discomfort?
You don’t need to worry about any health risks as a result of your pet’s microchip. Because microchips are made with a biocompatible, sterile material, they don’t trigger any allergic reactions.
Remember, the microchip is tiny — barely the size of a single grain of rice. It’s inserted into the subcutaneous tissue between your pet’s shoulder blades, which is an area of naturally loose skin (as you’ll realize if you’ve ever seen a mama cat carrying her kittens by the “scruff”).
After insertion, your pet’s tissue will naturally heal over the microchip within the first twenty-four hours, securing the chip in place. It will stay in Fido’s skin without causing any discomfort or issues for the entirety of your pet’s life. Your pet will never notice or realize it’s there!
Is there anything that can go wrong with a microchip?
A microchip can’t “go bad” because it isn’t broadcasting constantly, like a GPS would. A microchip is completely dormant until it is scanned. It doesn’t give off radiation, and does not increase your pet’s risk for any disease.
Because microchips don’t contain any kind of internal battery, there’s also nothing that can “leak” out of them to hurt your pet. It won’t “wear out” over time, and will never need to be replaced throughout your pet’s life.
Does a microchip put my private information at risk?
Nope! A microchip does not contain your personal information — just an ID number. A specialized scanner is required to read a microchip, anyway. While nearly all shelters and vet clinics have microchip scanners, it’s not something your average Joe can pick up at the store!
Why Wait to Microchip Your Pet?
After seeing the incredible difference that microchips make, the researchers behind the Ohio State study concluded:
“Microchipping is a win-win-win for the veterinarian or shelter, the owner and the pet. It is a community service and should be considered a best practice.”
Nowadays, veterinarians consistently encourage pet parents to microchip their pets. Many rescues and shelters make it a policy to microchip every animal they adopt out, and some breeders microchip their puppies as well.
If your pet doesn’t have one (or you’re not sure), many rescues or vet clinics offer discontinued microchipping events. A microchip usually costs around $30, but it may be even less at a discounted event.
The volunteers or workers who scan your pet can give you information on how to update your pet’s microchip, if they have one. If Fido doesn’t have one yet, they’ll microchip your pet for you on the spot.
That’s right — for the price of a lunch date, you get a massive lifelong boost to your odds of recovering your lost pet!
There’s many good reasons to microchip your pet, and no reason to wait — especially with the fireworks of the Fourth of July coming up. Now is the time to get your pets microchipped, or verify whether your microchip registration is up to date. Once that’s taken care of, you’ll be free to relax and enjoy the patriotic weekend!
A pet microchip gives you the peace of mind that if anything ever happens to your best furiends, you’ve done all you can to help them get back home — where they belong.