The Ins and Outs of Microchips
What is a microchip?
A microchip is a small electronic chip enclosed in a glass cylinder. It is approximately the size of a grain of rice and contains an identification number. The microchip itself does not have a battery. It is activated by a scanner that is passed over the area. The radio waves put out by the scanner activate the chip. The chip then transmits the identification number to the scanner, which displays the number on its screen. The microchip is also called a transponder.
What kind of information is contained in the microchip?
The microchips presently used in dogs contain only identification numbers. Although the microchip does not contain your pet’s medical information, some microchip registration databases will allow you to store that information in the database for quick reference.
One important distinction to make is that the microchip is not a GPS device and cannot track your dog if he gets lost. Also, you do not need to be concerned about your privacy: The information you provide to the manufacturer’s microchip registry will be used to contact you in the event your dog is found and their microchip is scanned. The only information about you contained in the database is the information you choose to provide when you register the chip or update your information. There are protections in place so that a random person cannot just look up an owner’s identification.
Why should I have my dog microchipped?
The best reason to have your dog microchipped is that it greatly improves the chances you will get your dog back it is lost or stolen. Most veterinarians and shelters have microchip scanners. The scanners are now able to read all types of microchip identification numbers.
There are a few large databases, such as Home Again, AKC Reunite and Avid. When you call with a number, they can tell you which database would have the owner’s information. The microchip databases are online or telephone accessed, and are available 24/7/365.
Another great feature of the database includes the circulation of notices for lost pets. Soon after receiving word that your dog is lost, they will send out alerts with your dog’s photo and description to animal shelters, veterinarian offices, and volunteer pet rescuers within a 25-mile radius of where your microchipped dog was lost. This network greatly increases awareness that dogs are missing and helps them get home sooner.
Microchips come with a tag that can be worn on the dog’s collar showing that it has a chip and the identification number. If a dog is wearing a collar with tags when it is lost, it is a quick process to read the tag and contact the owner. Without a collar or tags, the presence of a microchip may be the only way the dog’s owner can be found.
The next important reason for a microchip is that it provides permanent identification that is tamper proof. This can be crucial in the cases of identifying and recovering stolen dogs or confirming the identity between dogs of similar appearance.
I came across a couple of interesting products available for dogs with microchips. There are microchip pet doors that will read your dog’s microchip information and open the flap. This allows your dog the freedom to enter and exit while stopping unwanted animals from entering your home. It can also be set up with a curfew mode to lock or unlock the microchip pet flap at specified times.
The microchip pet feeder opens only for the right pet. This keeps other dogs, cats and even children out of the wrong food. This pet bowl is great for monitoring your dog’s diet and ensuring the correct dog consumes specialty or prescription foods. It also keeps food fresher.
How is a microchip implanted?
A microchip is injected under the skin using a hypodermic needle. The chip is placed at the base of the back of the neck between the shoulder blades. It is no more painful than a typical injection, although the needle containing the chip is slightly larger. Most dogs do not react at all when a microchip is placed.
Surgery or anesthesia is not required. A microchip can be implanted during a routine veterinary office visit. However, in order to avoid any potential discomfort, the microchip can be placed while your dog is under anesthesia for another procedure.
Can I just buy the microchip and implant it myself?
Although implanting a microchip looks like a simple enough procedure, there is a little more to it than just giving an injection. It is very important that the microchip is placed correctly. Using too much force, placing the needle to deeply or not deeply enough, or placing it in the wrong location not only can make it difficult to detect or read the microchip; it can also cause life-threatening problems.
Microchips should be implanted by, or under the supervision of, a veterinarian who knows where the microchip should be placed, how to implant it properly, how to recognize the signs of a problem, and how to treat one if it occurs.
Remember that having the microchip inserted is only the first step. A microchip must be registered in order to give you the best chance of having your lost dog returned to you. Many people fail to register their dog’s microchip or update their information. It is frustrating to scan a lost dog and find a microchip number that has no owner information in the database.
The big question of the week at my veterinary practice: “Do microchips slip?”
In other words: Do microchips move to other parts of the body away from the site where they were originally implanted? Since the microchips are positioned in the space between the skin and the body muscle, it is possible for the chip to move slightly from the spot where it was injected. Longer distance migration is extremely rare. Most microchips in use today have a surface texture that helps them attach to surrounding tissue and remain in place.
I recently saw a dog at my practice that needed to be scanned to see if she had a microchip. We were all amazed when the scanner kept reading a chip number as we passed the scanner over the dog’s left knee. When we called the database with the number, they informed us it was a false alarm. Because of how we were holding the scanner, we were actually scanning the test chip that we had attached to the scanner. Whoops.
It is a good idea to have your dogs’ microchips scanned at their annual visit to the veterinarian. This will ensure the chips are easily readable and still in their original location. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, instances of a chip migrating from where it was implanted happen in less than one percent of animals.
How is a GPS device different from a microchip?
GPS devices and microchips are not substitutes for each other. They are best used together since they are useful in locating a lost dog in different ways. A GPS may tell you where your dog is, but it cannot provide your contact information to those nearby who would help return your dog home. These devices also require batteries that wear out and can be lost like a collar or tags.
Microchips are permanent, since they are inserted under the dog’s skin. The information on the chip is readable for the entire life of your dog. While a microchip cannot guide you to your dog’s location, it does provide a way for you to be contacted, by almost any veterinarian or shelter, if your lost dog is brought in and scanned.