Microchip Dos and Don’ts: And Why Checking the Chip Works!

Dr. Patty Khuly

Microchips

Though microchips are a great addition to any pet’s traditional ID tags (and I’ve yet to meet one veterinarian who disagrees) I’m not about to claim they’re perfect. Like all new technologies, they’re best backed up by traditional old-world solutions like those jingly tags we’ve all come to know and love.

But first, the basics:

Microchips are identification devices implanted between your dog or cat’s shoulder blades via hypodermic needle (no anesthesia necessary at all, especially given the smaller size of new generation chips). These tiny bioglass-coated cylinders work using radio frequency technology to safely and permanently connect your pets to information that will help them find their way home again.

Here’s what it’s not:

A microchip is not a GPS device that can be used to track your pet’s location, nor does it contain all your pet’s information in its tiny brain. Instead, a microchip encodes a simple series of numbers specific to your pet. Though safely hidden under the skin, these can be detected, but only when activated by a scanning device used by shelters and veterinarians (called a microchip “scanner”).

Best of all, a microchip will never go bad. It needs no batteries and never needs to be replaced –– that is, if it stays where it’s supposed to be (in the U.S., that’s between a dog or cat’s shoulder blades). Here’s where the trouble comes in:

Though it’s designed to forever remain in one location, microchips have been known to “migrate.” That is to say, they may roam a bit underneath a pet’s skin, finding another anatomical home somewhere else under the skin. In other cases, they might even work their way out of the skin. While this is considered uncommon, the fact that it happens at all is cause for some concern.

Enter National Check the Chip Day. On this day every year, veterinarians and pet owners are urged to observe some basic dos and don’ts regarding this littlest of pet safety devices. Here’s a list:

Do check the chip annually: Foremost, you should ensure that your pet’s chip be checked at his or her annual visit to be sure it’s in the correct location. If your vet doesn’t check, just ask! The more pet owners ask for this basic service, the more veterinarians will incorporate it into their yearly visit protocols.

Don’t fail to microchip all your pets, including the ones that “never go outside.” Remember, these are the ones most likely to get lost if they do find themselves loose by accident (while traveling, after storms, during renovations, etc.). You’d be surprised at how many pets with no chips belong to owners who never expected they’d ever see the light of day.

Do make sure your pet’s chip is registered to you and that your contact and emergency information is up to date. Your veterinarian’s team can help you make this happen if you have any concerns about how this is done.

Don’t worry about cancer at the site of chip insertion. Veterinarians get a lot of questions about this remote possibility. This calamity has, however, only been described once in the veterinary literature. Out of millions and millions of chips, once is pretty good odds.

Don’t let your pets get fat. The veterinary literature has also described an interesting scenario in which microchips can be harder to read: obesity. Turns out obese pets are more likely to have their implanted chips passed over by the microchip reader. While this may have changed with newer generation machines, serious amounts of blubber overlying the microchip can interfere with its detection.

Do keep a tag on your pet at all times. A microchip may be indispensable nowadays but there’s no need to take any unnecessary risks. A physical tag shows people your pet is owned and loved and leads to faster return times.

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