Tuesday is the American Veterinary Medical Association’s National Check the Chip Day, created to increase awareness of the benefits of microchipping pets. While August 15th is the official designated day, the importance of microchipping should be discussed all year long. Working for the Louisiana SPCA’s rescue center, I have seen firsthand the difference a microchip can make in the outcome for a pet and the likelihood of a pet returning to its family. Too many stray animals enter the shelter without any sort of identification, lost and with no way for their families to be found. Sometimes, the collar was just removed for an hour to give the dog a bath, the gate was left unlocked, and the dog decided to take himself for a walk. For cats, who often do not wear collars or ID tags, finding their families can be even more difficult. For these animals, the presence of a microchip could be life-changing. However, working in the Community Clinic at the Louisiana SPCA, I find that caretakers are sometimes confused about what exactly a microchip is and how it helps their pet.
A microchip is an electronic chip that is approximately the size and shape of a grain of rice. The microchips in current use do not have GPS capability and so caretakers cannot track a lost or stolen pet directly. However, when a lost pet is brought to a veterinary clinic or animal shelter, it should be scanned with a microchip scanner. When a microchip is passed over with a scanner of the correct frequency, a number is transmitted from the chip to the scanner that is unique to that chip and to the animal in which the microchip is implanted. This number can then be used to locate the manufacturer of the chip and, through the manufacturer’s database or registry, the caretaker of the animal.
Microchip implantation is simple and can be performed in your veterinarian’s office without sedation or anesthesia. The chip is contained in a sterile hypodermic needle, and is implanted under the skin in the appropriate location by your veterinarian. The implantation takes less than a minute, and while not entirely painless – it is an injection with a needle, after all- your pet has very minimal discomfort during or after the implantation. Caretakers may notice a small scab in the area that usually heals very quickly and without complication.
Once the chip is implanted, it is vital that the caretakers’s information is registered with the chip manufacturer’s database. Information that is usually required for registry is the caretakers’s address and telephone number. Other information about the pet, its medical history, or photos of the pet can usually also be entered into the registry for aid in identifying pets. Once registered, pet caretakers should make sure to keep their information up to date. In an animal shelter, locating a microchip in a pet only to find that the chip has not been registered or that the information located in the registry is no longer correct is heartbreaking. When this happens, the pet is no better off and no closer to finding its family than if it hadn’t been microchipped in the first place. Pet caretakers should check that their information is correct at least annually, and update their phone number and address in the registry as soon as it changes. Here in the Gulf Coast region, I recommend making this a part of preparing your family for hurricane season and possible evacuation.
As with anything, microchips are not fool proof. Having your pet microchipped increases your chance of finding them when they are lost, but does not guarantee it. Complications associated with microchipping are very rare. Most often reported are migration of the microchip from the location of implantation, swelling or infection at the implantation site, or failure of the microchip to be read by the scanner. Pet caretakers should be sure to have their pet’s microchip scanned every year to confirm that the microchip is still functional. This can easily be performed in conjunction with the pet’s annual examination by their veterinarian.
Microchipping can mean the difference between a lost pet being returned to its family or languishing in the shelter hoping for someone to find it. If you have found a stray animal and would like to have it checked for a microchip, bring the animal to a veterinarian’s office or to your local animal shelter to be scanned. If you have questions about the different types of microchips available, whether your pet should be microchipped or have other concerns, talk to your veterinarian. The Louisiana SPCA is hosting a walk-in microchip clinic this Saturday, August 19, from 12-4 p.m., during which pet caretakers can have their pet’s microchip scanned, or can have a chip implanted. Don’t let your pet become one of the numerous stray pets brought to animal shelters whose families are never found. Consider microchipping your pet and help give them their best chance at coming home to you!