Cats absolutely need a form of identification, even if they are indoor-only cats. Indoor cats do escape at times, and unlike human children, cats are unable to vocalize their names and addresses. It is particularly important to microchip cats vaccinated for FIV. If picked up by Animal Control and tested, they could show a false positive for FIV, and subsequently be euthanized, lacking identification with the microchip scan. After weighing all the options, my conclusion is that microchips are the best form of identification for cats. I'm not alone in that opinion either; laws requiring microchip for pets have been instituted by the European Pets Travel Scheme (PETS), as well as state and local laws in the U.S. The Companion Animals Act in Australia requires the microchipping of all cats and dogs acquired since July 1, 1999.
How Does a Microchip Work?
The microchip is a "living tissue friendly" glass bead about the size of a grain of rice. It is embedded with a unique number which will be registered with the owner's address and contact information in a database. Inserting a microchip is very similar to giving an injection. The chip is placed into a large needle with a special injector and is inserted deeply under the skin between the shoulder blades of the cat. The insertion is relatively painless and cats do not usually require sedation. However, if a cat is due for spay/neuter surgery, your veterinarian may suggest microchipping at the same time, which works out well.
The owner is given a form with the unique number, which should be completed and mailed to the microchip company. There may be a small one-time registration fee and/or a small annual fee, in addition to the fee charged by your veterinarian. The total is usually less than $100, and well worth the cost in terms of peace of mind.
Later, should the cat become lost and taken to a shelter or veterinarian, routine scanning will reveal the microchip and a phone call to the company that produced the microchip will reveal the information in the database for that chip. In the U.S., two major companies, AVID, and Home Again produce the majority of microchips for pets, and most vet clinics and shelters have scanners for both brands. Except for Jennifer, all our cats have the AVID chips. Jennifer has Home Again.
Can Microchips Cause Cancer?
Although there have been a few documented cases of sarcomas found near microchips, there has yet to be any indisputable proof that cancer has been actually caused by the microchip.
- The first incident, reported in October 2007, involved a 14 YO female cat, which had been previously vaccinated in the same site, making the findings inconclusive. (Reported by Science Direct.)
- Another case, documented in 2006 by Science Direct, involved a cat who suffered tetraparesis (muscle weakness in all four limbs) following the implantation of a microchip. Subsequent successful surgical removal of the microchip resulted in the return of muscle strength in the cat's legs 11 months later, with the exception of mild weakness in the left front leg.
- A third case, in 2004, a dog was diagnosed with sarcoma over his shoulder area, with the microchip attached. This dog had also been vaccinated in the same area for rabies, so cause and effect were inconclusive. (Reported by The Irreverent Vet for PetPlace.com.)
If you have serious concerns about the microchip and cancer, I'd advise following The Irreverent Vet's advice. He said to have your cat's microchip scanned during a routine medical exam. Sometimes these chips migrate, and scanning will give its location. Then make it a practice to feel that area regularly for unusual masses or swelling.
The Dramatic Results of Microchipping Cats
There have been a number of news stories about microchipped cats being returned to their homes, sometimes from great distances, after being found and their chips scanned by veterinary clinics or animal shelters.
- "Grumpy Henry" Found 150 Miles From Home - This 14-year-old cat disappeared from Chelsea and was returned to his owner in Coventry after a PSDA clinic found his microchip. (Reported by the BBC News.)
- Plato, Microchipped in Monterey CA Found in Oregon - In a comedy of errors rivaling Shakespeare, a couple found a "stray cat" on the streets of Monterey. They moved to Oregon, then later surrendered Plato to the Oregon Humane Society, where he was scanned and returned to his relieved owners, one year after he went missing.
- Suki, from NC, Found in IL via Microchip Scan - Tricia Roman, the kind woman who found pretty Suki, had her microchipped, and subsequently returned to her rightful owner in Carrboro, North Carolina. It was a win-win situation for all three parties.
Update Your Cat's Microchip Information When Moving
On the other side of the coin, a microchip does no good if you move and fail to update your new contact information. The data on the chip provides the only clue to your address and the chip is worthless without it. Betsy became famous worldwide when the Kitten to Cat veterinary clinic in London publicized her plight. She had been "living rough" on the streets when a kind woman who had been feeding her brought her to the clinic. Unfortunately, Betsy's microchip information had not been updated and her original owner had never been found. Betsy eventually found a loving home with a new owner.
The Best Friends Animal Society once found seven cats with microchips containing outdated information. Countless other cats have slipped through the system because of outdated owner contact information on their chips.
One of the first things I did before moving from Northern California to Georgia in June of 2015, was to take my six cats to our veterinarian, have her scan them for their microchips, get copies of the microchip tags, and notify the two companies of our change of address. I wanted to ensure that if any of our cats were found after escaping during our long road trip, they would be sent to our Georgia address, rather than back to our old address in California. Naturally, I also put my cell phone number on each tag.
Avoid Tragic Loss: Microchip Your Pet
Perhaps one of the most tragic cases involving the failure to microchip occurred when a 10-year-old police service dog named Felony was mistakenly euthanized as a "dangerous and unadoptable" animal. Had the MN Howard Lake Police Department microchipped Felony, he would still be alive and nearing a happy retirement. The Midwest Animal Rescue and Services have offered to microchip police dogs across the St. Paul Metro service, but it is too little, too late for Felony.
Please avoid the needless tragic loss of your own cats and dogs by having them microchipped, and by updating your contact information when necessary! My six cats are all microchipped. Are yours?