Microchipping Your Pets

Veterinarian scanning dog for microchip
Robert Daly / Getty Images

Many people have microchips implanted in their pets for identification purposes. If your dog does not have a microchip, it's time to consider microchipping your dog. Millions of pets get lost and end up in shelters every year, and few of these missing pets are reunited with their owners. Unfortunately, many are adopted out to new homes or even euthanized.

Microchip or not, it is important that your dog has identification at all times. Although collars and tags are essential, they can fall off or become damaged. Fortunately, technology has made it possible to equip your pet with a microchip for permanent identification.

How a Pet Microchip Works

A pet microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. It consists of a tiny computer chip housed in a special type of glass. The material is made to be compatible with living tissue. The microchip is implanted between the dog's shoulder blades under the skin with a needle and special syringe. The process is similar to getting a shot (except with a larger needle). In most cases, little to no pain is experienced. Many dogs barely notice it being implanted.

Despite the larger needle, most pets react the same as they would to a ​routine vaccination. If you are concerned about the size of the needle, you can have your pet microchipped during anesthesia for a spay or neuter. If your dog is already fixed, you can have it placed during a professional dental cleaning.

Once in place, the microchip can be detected immediately with a handheld device that uses radio waves to read the chip. This device scans the microchip and then displays a unique alphanumeric code.

After the microchip is placed, the dog must be registered with the microchip company, often for a one-time fee. This way, the dog can be traced back to the owner if found.

What You Need to Know About Microchips

  • Microchips are designed to last for the life of a dog. They do not need to be charged or replaced. There are no batteries.
  • Always keep your contact information updated with the microchip registration company. This is so you can be quickly contacted in the event your dog goes missing and the chip is scanned. If you move, get a new phone number, or change your email address, be sure to immediately change your microchip contact information!
  • Some microchips have been known to migrate from the area between the shoulder blades. The instructions for scanning emphasize the need to scan the dog’s entire body, including the limbs.
  • A microchipped dog can be easily identified if found by a shelter or veterinary office in possession of a universal scanner. However, some shelters and veterinary offices do not have these or any scanners, especially in rural areas.
  • Depending on the brand of microchip and the year it was implanted, even so-called universal scanners may not be able to detect the microchip. This mainly applies to old chips or those implanted in foreign countries. Most new microchips are usually compatible with universal scanners.
  • Microchip manufacturers, veterinarians, and animal shelters have been working on solutions to the imperfections, and technology continues to improve over time. Fortunately, the newest microchips on the market tend to have better readability.
  • Microchips do not have GPS or other locating capabilities. A lost pet must be scanned by a chip reader in order to begin the process of finding the owner.

Avoid Losing Your Dog

Understand that no method of identification is perfect. The best thing you can do to protect your dog is to be a responsible owner. Whether or not your pet has a microchip, you should keep current identification tags on your dog at all times. Consider microchipping as reinforcement. Most importantly, never allow your dog to roam free. If your dog does become lost, more identification can increase the odds of finding your beloved companion.

If you have questions about the best type of microchip to use, ask your veterinarian for recommendations.