Microchip Myths Debunked

 |  Jun 25th 2009  |   4 Contributions


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The best defense against losing your pet is a good offense, which includes tagging and microchipping your cats, putting bells on their collars (when they first escape, it will help you locate them before they become lost) and keeping them secure inside your house.

Not sure whether it's safe to microchip your pets? HealthyPets.com debunks the most common microchip myths:

It's always sad to see a flyer stapled to a signpost or on a bulletin board at the grocery store with a picture of a lost pet. You imagine a child waiting for the phone to ring, hoping that some kind person happens to find his kitty and see his flyer. Sadly, once a pet is lost, the odds are against her finding her way home again. According to the American Humane Association, only about seventeen percent of lost dogs and two percent of cats ever find their way back from shelters to their original owners. Almost 9.6 million pets are euthanized every year because their owners can't be found. There are ways to beat these odds though, and they involve using nametags, collars and microchips. To give your pet the best chance to be identified, no matter how far she roams, have her implanted with a microchip and wear an updated nametag.

Besides providing your contact information, a collar and name tag notifies others that your pet is domesticated and strangers are more likely to assist your pet in finding her home. Since tags can fade, rust, or get scratched and become impossible to read, AAHA suggests inspecting your pets tags and collars once a month. If the tags become unreadable or outdated, it is important to immediately replace it with a new nametag with your current contact information.

Although tags and collars are important, they can tear or slip off. With microchipping, on the other hand, a veterinarian injects a tiny computer chipabout the size of a grain of ricejust under your pet's skin, between the shoulder blades. A number on the microchip is entered into an international database, like the Central Animal Registry or PETtrac. If your dog or cat is found, any animal hospital, shelter, or humane society can use a microchip reader to read the unique ID number contained on the chip. The veterinarian or worker can accesses the database by imputting the number given off by the microchip. The chip can't be lost or damaged, and it lasts for the pet's lifetime. However, it is your responsibility as the pet owner to update your contact information.

The microchip is convenient, safe, and reliable. Though many veterinarians and animal shelters are actively working to inform their clients about microchipping, there are still a number of myths keeping pet owners from microchipping their pets.

The myth: The implantation procedure is too expensive.

The truth: While the price can vary from one veterinarian to another, it often falls between $25 and $40. A lot of veterinarians will charge even less if they perform the implantation at the same time as another procedure, like spaying, neutering, or dental work. It's a one-time fee; the chip never needs maintenance or replacement. There may be a fee, generally under $20, to enter your pet's ID number in a database, and there may be a small fee for changing your address, phone number, or other contact information in the database. Ask your veterinarian for more information

The myth: It's going to hurt my pet to get the chip implanted.

The truth: The procedure is simple, routine, and painless, and it doesn't require any anesthesia. Your pet simply gets an injection just under the loose skin between the shoulder blades; it's a lot like getting vaccinated. Most animals don't react at all.

The myth: They couldn't possibly give every pet with a microchip a unique number. My pet's number will be duplicated.

The truth: The way technology works today, these tiny microchips can hold huge amounts of information. In fact, the microchips are designed to produce 275 billion different identification numbers. On top of that, manufacturers add unique product and manufacturer's codes to identify their chips. With all the possible combinations of ID numbers, there are more than enough numbers to make sure every pet has a completely unique number. Click here for a list of microchip manufacturers, the RFID frequency they use and their phone numbers.

The myth: Most shelters and veterinarians don't have microchip readers, so they won't be able to identify my pet.

The truth: It's true that a microchip won't work to identify your pet unless your pet comes in contact with a microchip reader. There are few shelters and veterinarians in the US today that don't have readers. (In Canada, almost all the animal control services and veterinarians have readers.) The main microchip manufacturers offer universal microchip readers to humane societies, shelters, and veterinarians for free or for a small fee. Until recently, each brand of microchip could only be read by its own brand of microchip reader. Recently, though, universal readers that read all brands of microchips have been made available to the shelter community. Ask your veterinarian, your nearby humane society or shelter, or the animal control department in your area whether they have microchip readers readily available. If not, encourage them to get the readers. Of course, to be sure your pets will be returned to you, you should identify them with an updated tag and a microchip.

The myth: Eventually, the microchip will wear out and I'll have to have it replaced.

The truth: The chip doesn't have an internal battery or power source. Most of the time it is inactive. When the microchip reader is passed over it, it gets enough power from the reader to transmit the pet's ID number. Since there's no battery and no moving parts, there's nothing to wear out or replace. The microchip will last throughout your pet's lifetime. However, it is your responsibility as the pet owner to update your pet's microchip everytime you change addresses or phone numbers.

The myth: My cat never goes outside. She doesn't need to have a microchip ID.

The truth: It's wonderful that you're keeping your pet safe inside, but a guest or a repair person could easily leave the door hanging open, or a screen could come loose from an open window. Unaltered pets in particular will take any chance to roam. There's a possibility that your house could be damaged in heavy storm, flood, or other natural disaster, causing your cat to run away in fear. Pets can even be stolen-particularly birds and exotic or purebred animals. No matter how closely you watch your favorite animal friend, there's always a chance she could get out, and if she doesn't have any ID, it will be extremely hard to find her.

The myth: If someone else ever tries to claim my pet, the microchip ID number won't hold up in court.

The truth: A microchip ID number is unique, it can't be changed, and it links a pet to its owner through an international database. It works a lot like the serial numbers that link vehicles, stereos, TV sets, and other valuable possessions to their owners. The American and Canadian Kennel Clubs have recognized microchipping as definitive proof of a dog's identity and ownership, and accept microchip identification to register purebred dogs. If you own a very valuable pet, or if you're afraid there might be a question about who has custody of your pet, microchip identification could be a big help.

The myth: It's not safe for my cat to have a foreign object inside his body.

The truth: Any foreign material injected carries some risks. However, the risks of are extremely minimal compared to the risk of your pet becoming lost. Veterinarians have been implanting microchips in animals for years, and the process has been proven to be very safe. The chip is made out of an inert, biocompatible substance, which means it won't cause an allergic reaction in your furry friend, and it won't degenerate over time. The first versions of the microchip would sometimes migrate from where they were injected, but manufacturers now design the chips with antimigrating properties. When they're implanted properly, today's chips won't migrate. Once they're in place, they won't move around or get near any delicate tissues or organs. You can help make sure the microchip heals securely by keeping your pet calm and quiet for the 24 hours following injection. Because the microchip is placed just under the skin and not internally, microchip reading is completely safe as well.

Microchipping is safe, effective, durable, and dependable, but it cant absolutely guarantee that a lost pet will be found. The best way to keep your pet safe is to use more than one form of identification. Microchips are long lasting and a wonderful means of identification, but there is a chance a shelter wont have a reader, so a tattoo would be an effective backup form of identification. If kind strangers find your dog in the street, on the other hand, they wont have a reader handy to check for a microchip and wont know where to call to match a animals tattoo to an owner. A tag with your name and address would let them bring your pet right back to your door. Another possibility would be a tag that informs readers that your pet has been microchipped and/or tattooed and gives them the number to call to reach the ID number database. Theres always the possibility that one kind of identification could fail, but if your pet has two or three kinds of ID, theres a good chance that at least one will help bring her home to you. Talk to your veterinarian about how to provide the best identification for your pet.

In a perfect world, leashes, fences, and doors would be enough to keep your pet safe at home. In the real world, accidents happen, and your pet depends on you to protect her against the things that could go wrong. With a little effort now, you can take a big step toward ensuring that your furry friend will be with you in the future.

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