Your Best Bet for Bringing Home Your Lost Pet
Crystal Clayter had finished grad school and was moving back to her hometown of Los Angeles. To keep her miniature schnauzer, Bosco, safe while she was packing and moving, Crystal left him with her mother, who lived in Los Angeles. Bosco was despondent, so Crystal’s mother tried to keep his spirits up by getting him groomed. Unfortunately, Bosco managed to slip out an open gate—before his collar and ID tag had been put back on.
Devastated, Crystal frantically tried to figure out what to do. She remembered that the breeder she’d gotten Bosco from had microchipped the dog, so she contacted the microchip manufacturer and reported Bosco missing. Her family posted lost-pet signs, and as soon as Crystal got back to Los Angeles, she spent months combing the neighborhood, physically checking animal shelters, and posting ads on the Internet—all to no avail.
Finally, Crystal, who had just gotten married, was about to embark on her honeymoon when she received an unexpected wedding gift. Bosco had been found wandering more than 350 miles away in a field in Phoenix, Arizona, and taken to an animal shelter. When the shelter scanned Bosco, they found the microchip. “I remember screaming at the top of my lungs and then crying,” Crystal says. “The microchip had done exactly what it promised to do—bring my dog home.”
Crystal and Bosco’s story has a happy ending, but not all such stories end well. Fewer than one in four lost pets makes it back home in the United States,* where only 3% to 5% of pets are microchipped.** In the United Kingdom, on the other hand, the percentage of lost pets who are reunited with their owners is estimated to be around 47%.** This difference has a lot to do with the higher percentage of pets who are microchipped there—approximately 25%.**
HOW MICROCHIPPING WORKS
About the size of a grain of rice, a microchip is a tiny radio-frequency device encased in a glass cylinder. The chip, which contains a unique identification number, is inserted just under a pet’s skin by a veterinarian or other qualified veterinary staff member. When a handheld scanner is passed over the chip, the ID number is transmitted via low-frequency radio waves to the scanner, which then displays the number on its screen.
The ID number is linked to the microchip manufacturer’s database, where the pet owner’s name and contact information are stored. If a lost pet is found, the shelter or veterinary hospital simply scans the pet, calls the phone number for the database, retrieves the owner’s information, and contacts the owner.
Microchips do not contain a tracking device and do not use batteries. They are activated by a scanner and should last at least 25 years.
A COMPLEMENTARY SYSTEM
As Crystal discovered, a collar and ID tag alone aren’t always enough to identify a pet. “The best plan is to have both a microchip and a collar with an ID tag,” says Louise Murray, DVM, DACVIM, director of medicine at The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ (ASPCA) Bergh Memorial Hospital. “One doesn’t replace the other.”
John M. Snyder, CAWA, vice president of The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) companion animals division, agrees, “If you microchip your pet, also use exterior identification. More people get their pets back from collars and tags than from microchips. If a person finds your pet, the first thing he or she will do is look for a tag and call the phone number on it.”
The advantage of keeping ID tags on pets—even those that live indoors—is that they are visible. There’s generally no need to take a lost pet with an ID tag to a shelter or veterinary hospital to have the pet scanned for a microchip. The disadvantage is that ID tags aren’t permanent. Pets can lose their collars and tags, and owners sometimes take their pets’ collars on and off (e.g., for grooming or sleeping).
A microchip has no value if you don’t register it and keep your information updated.
Dr. Murray emphasizes that no matter how responsible a pet owner is, there is always a chance that something can go wrong: A dog or cat could push through a window or door screen, a leash could break, a pet could slip out of a harness, or a delivery person or friend could leave a door open. “Even the most well-cared-for pet can get lost,” she says. “Microchipping is a permanent, unalterable way to identify a pet and reconnect her with her owner.”
To make sure the microchip works the way it’s meant to, you need to register it with the manufacturer’s database. “A microchip has no value if you don’t register it and keep your information updated,” Snyder says.
IS MICROCHIPPING SAFE?
Microchips are inert and enclosed in biocompatible material. This means that they aren’t toxic, they won’t cause an allergic reaction, and they won’t decompose or disintegrate over time. It is possible for the injection to cause an infection or localized swelling, but this reaction is extremely rare and can be easily treated.
DOES THE PROCEDURE HURT?
Getting microchipped is no more painful than getting an injection, and anesthesia isn’t required. As Dr. Murray points out, “The minor pain of a very brief injection is so much less than what can happen to a dog or cat who gets lost and isn’t recovered.”
ARE THERE ANY RISKS?
The most common complication is that the chip can move, or migrate, from where it was inserted; however, migration is rare, and one manufacturer has implemented antimigration technology to further reduce this chance.
Any potential risks of microchipping are far outweighed by the benefits.
INTERESTED? Your veterinarian can discuss the procedure with you, answer any questions you might have, and help you register your pet with the manufacturer’s database. If you adopted your pet and aren’t sure whether she has a microchip, visit your veterinarian to have your pet scanned to check for a chip.
There are no guarantees if your pet becomes lost, but a microchip combined with your pet’s collar and ID tag just might be the next best thing.
* From the Coalition for Reuniting Pets & Families. ** According to a report from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Less than 25%of lost pets in the United States make it back home.**
THE FUTURE OF MICROCHIPPING LOOKS BRIGHT
Veterinarians have been microchipping pets for years, but until recently, the benefits had not been realized. Experts are working to resolve issues with microchipping in the United States, including the fact that not all scanners can read all microchips and no central database exists for storing ownership information.
In other countries, all microchip radio frequencies conform to a global standard set by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). The ISO standard was intended to ensure that microchipping systems would be consistent everywhere in the world. However, not all frequencies used in the United States follow that standard.
Although each microchipping company still maintains its own separate database, the more important issue of frequency incompatibility is being resolved. Two major manufacturers recently donated 50,000 universal scanners—scanners that can detect and read all brands of microchip.
Talk to your veterinarian about which microchip is right for your pet.