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The Truth About Microchipping

Benefits (Many), Risks (Few), and Costs (Minimal)

There is no denying that our pets are an important part of our families. We post cute pictures of them on social media. We research ingredients to provide them with the best pet food. We enjoy talking to them, playing with them, and cuddling them. And we often feel guilty when we leave them to go to work or on vacation. So most of us would agree that the thought of our pet getting lost is devastating. Collars, leashes and fences are the most common ways to keep our pets safely at home. But leashes can break, collars can slip off, and fences are not foolproof. Microchips are a great way to ensure that our beloved pets can be reunited with us if they are ever lost.

What is a microchip – and how does microchip ID work?

A microchip is a simple computer chip encased in biocompatible glass. It is the size of a grain of rice and carries a pre-programmed unique identification number. When a pet comes into a shelter or veterinary hospital, a hand-held scanner is passed over the pet’s shoulder blades and the unique identification number can be retrieved. This number is part of a national database that permanently links each pet with his or her human family. On the microchip website, owners can create an online profile for their pet and upload pictures to aid the identification and recovery process.

How are microchips implanted – and are they safe?

Each microchip fits into a small needle that is used to inject the chip underneath your pet’s skin, usually between the shoulder blades. Most pets react to the microchip implantation as they would a vaccine (little to no reaction, minimal discomfort, and in rare cases, slight soreness at the injection site for a few hours). No sedation or anesthesia is required, and pets can be microchipped as early as six to eight weeks. Since the microchip casing is inert, it is considered non-toxic and non-allergenic.

Are microchips expensive? How long do they last?

The cost of implanting a microchip is usually $50 to $70, including lifetime registration in the national database. For a nominal annual fee, most microchip companies provide access to additional services, such as poison control and emergency medical hotlines, rapid pet alert networks on social media, and pet loss specialists who can guide owners as they search for a lost pet. Since microchips do not require batteries, there is nothing to wear out, change, or replace. They last for your pet’s entire lifetime. Your veterinarian should scan your pet to confirm that the microchip is still working at every annual visit. If this doesn’t happen, you can ask for this to be a part of your pet’s routine care.

Do indoor cats or dogs that stay in a fenced yard really benefit from a microchip?

It is not uncommon for pets to accidentally find themselves outside the safety of their homes. Resourceful dogs can find ways over, under, and around fences. Curious indoor cats can escape through open doors and windows. Many cats do not regularly wear collars, and the tags on a dog’s collar can get lost or too worn to read. A microchip is a permanent form of identification that is always with your pet. This means microchipping is a sure way to identify your pet in the event someone has removed identification in order to maintain possession of your cat or dog illegally.

One in three pets is separated from its owner at some point in its lifetime. Without proper identification, 90 percent of those separated pets never find their homes. It should be noted that during natural disasters like hurricanes and floods, many pets become separated from their families. A microchip may be the only way your pet can be identified and reunited with you. Ask your veterinarian about microchipping your pet. If you have additional questions, ask the veterinary staff to show you the microchip and scanner and demonstrate how it works.

Samantha Tisnado, DVM, co-founder of John Rolfe Animal Hospital and head veterinarian of Gayton Animal Hospital in the West End, has a passion for cat behavior and nutrition and has been working with all kinds of animals for fifteen years. She lives in Midlothian with her family – including a mini-menagerie of furry friends.
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