What Is a Microchip, and Should You Microchip Your Dog?

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What Is a Microchip, and Should You Microchip Your Dog?

As a former animal shelter volunteer, I can tell you that we were able to reunite a lot of stray animals with their owners because they had the foresight to microchip their pets. In fact, a study conducted by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that while 22% of lost dogs were reunited with their families, that number increased to more than 52% when the lost dogs were microchipped.

Microchips can be your best friend's best friend.

Many veterinarians recommend that dog owners microchip their dogs. "Microchipping is one of the first recommendations that our veterinary hospital office gives new pet owners," explains Nikki Graham, DVM, veterinarian and owner of Nottingham Animal Hospital in Hamilton, NJ. "We have seen firsthand how quickly a pet can escape, and microchipping—a quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive procedure—can make the difference between uncertainty and being reunited with a lost family member."

Dog owners typically buy collars and ID tags for their new pets after bringing them home but may not think about microchipping. While collars with ID tags are a good first level of protection against getting lost, dogs can easily lose their collars if they snag it on a branch or even slip away when somebody grabs them by it—leaving the collar dangling in the person's hand and the dog running down the road.

"Microchipping is not only important for pets that tend to run away," says Dr. Graham. "Pets can also be lost in burglaries, natural disasters, fires, floods, or while traveling. A microchip is another level of identification, in addition to collars and tags, to permanently identify a pet's owner."

What Is a Microchip?

A microchip is a small integrated circuit that gets inserted under your dog's skin in the neck/shoulder blade area. It is only about the size of a piece of Orzo pasta. The microchip uses a technology called passive RFID (radio frequency identification), which means it doesn't have its own power source. So it doesn't emit signals but, rather, responds to signals from corresponding frequencies, such as those used by a scanner. Many animal shelters and veterinary offices have these scanners.

Getting Your Dog Microchipped

Be sure to ask the breeder, shelter, or animal rescue group you get your dog from whether the animal has already been microchipped. There's no need to microchip your dog again if they already have one, as microchips are good for the life of your pet. If you do decide to get your dog microchipped, your vet can perform the procedure at your dog's first office visit or during their spay or neuter surgery.

Your vet will insert the microchip under the skin between your dog's shoulder blades using a syringe. Although it's typically done without anesthesia, if you have it done during spay or neuter surgery, your dog will already be sedated. The process is relatively pain-free, with temporary discomfort as with any injection.

After insertion, your vet will then scan your dog to make sure that the microchip is functioning and record the unique ID as belonging to your dog. It is up to you to then register the microchip with all of your contact information.

The Cost of Microchipping Your Dog

Microchipping your dog typically costs around $45-50. Your vet may charge a nominal fee to insert it, especially if you're already paying for an office visit for your dog's first vaccinations and check-up, and this is just added to that. Most of the cost of microchipping your dog is to register the microchip with the microchip company's registry.

There are many microchip companies out there, including AKCReunite, HomeAgain, PetLink, and more. Your vet decides which program they participate in. For most, the price of enrollment is included in the cost of the microchip (charged by your vet), and there is no annual fee to remain in the program.

Some towns offer microchip services during annual and biannual clinics, and clinics inside large pet stores like PetSmart and Petco do as well.

The Importance of Registering Your Dog

Microchipping your dog is only the first step in protecting them. You must register your dog's chip in a company's database online to complete that protection.

It is very important that you update this information whenever it changes, such as a new phone number or when you move to a new address. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) recommend checking your dog's microchip information annually and have designated August 15 as "Check the Chip Day."

To update your dog's microchip information, sign in to your account with the microchip registry online. Look for the "update account" or "update pet info" link, click on it, and make the change(s) on the screen that comes up. Be sure to save the updates before you exit.

If your dog goes lost or missing, you should also log into your account and click on the link for "report pet lost." Then, follow the directions to give your dog's information. Many microchip registries also have a "lost pet" alert system that will email other registry members in your geographic area or the area the pet goes missing in, so they can keep an eye out, too.

Although there are many different pet registries for microchips, the AAHA developed a clearinghouse website, PetMicrochipLookup, where shelters and animal hospitals can go to enter the microchip ID of a found pet and get the pet owner's contact information, regardless of which registry they belong to.

"I have done breed rescue for 30+ years, and the groups that I work with make it a point to microchip their rescues," says Pat Gamsby of Bjorn-Lass Kennels. "Even the best, most carefully chosen home is subject to incidents such as an unlatched door or gate or a panicked dog going over or under a fence. Dogs often wander much farther from home than people expect, and a microchip is an excellent way to track down the dog's home."

The news often has amazing stories about animals being reunited with their owners years later and miles away from their original homes. The most important reason you should microchip your dog is to protect the one you love and ensure they live a long life by your side.

"Unlike kids, pets can't memorize our phone numbers," says Dr. Graham. "Let's make sure we take all the possible steps to make sure our pets can make it home again."

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