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A Guide to Microchipping Dogs and How it Works
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A Guide to Microchipping Dogs and How it Works

Critter Culture Staff
Updated Oct 18, 2022

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No matter how careful pet owners are, our canine companions sometimes find a way to escape the safety of their yard, dart out of an opened door, or get off their leash. In some cases, they could be stolen or get separated from us during a natural disaster. Microchipping is a simple procedure that can improve the chances of getting a lost pet back should they be found and taken to a shelter or animal clinic.

1

Microchips are super tiny

close-up photo of a microchip for pets on human finger Todorean Gabriel / Getty Images

Similar in size to a grain of rice, the microchip is an electronic chip that is encased in a tiny glass cylinder. During a routine visit, the veterinarian can inject the microchip under the dog’s skin using a hypodermic needle. Although the needle is a tad larger, it’s no more painful than a regular injection and requires no sedation or anesthesia. Some pet owners choose to chip their dogs while they are in for another procedure such as teeth cleaning, spaying, or neutering.

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2

Microchips contain limited information

Microchip scanning a young French Bulldog. DjelicS / Getty Images

Owners may worry that the microchips contain private information about them. However, the microchip only contains an identification number and some manufacturer info. During the injection, this data and the owner’s contact information are registered in a database. When a vet clinic or shelter scans the pet, the scanner sends out radio waves that activate the chip and displays the number on a screen. As the owner, you can choose what information you wish to include in the registry, beyond your contact information.

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3

Microchips cannot locate your lost dog

On the tree hangs the announcement of the missing puppy. StockSeller_ukr / Getty Images

The microchip has no GPS or location capabilities, so it cannot reveal where your pet is. However, despite the fact the chip can’t provide clues to your dog’s whereabouts, studies show that a microchipped pet is 20 times more likely to be returned to their family as long as the owner’s contact information is current in the manufacturer’s database.

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4

Registration is crucial

beautiful dog outdoors Photo by Pauline Loroy on Unsplash

While the microchip inserted into your dog has a unique identifying number, it won’t do much good if you don’t register the number into a pet recovery database from the chip’s manufacturer. Unfortunately, there’s no central database in the U.S. Each manufacturer chooses or maintains its own. When your pet is scanned, the chip’s manufacturer is displayed along with your dog’s unique identifier number which is used to find owner contact information. A universal lookup tool is available, but it doesn’t provide individual owner information. That’s why it’s important to update your contact information in the database service your pet’s chip manufacturer maintains.

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5

They’re maintenance free

Scanning a microchip in a dog Estherke / Getty Images

Microchips don’t have a battery that requires changing, so they don’t require regular maintenance. However, animal experts suggest that you have a veterinarian check your dog’s chip during their yearly preventative checkups to ensure the signal is activating. Owners should regularly check the chip site for any signs of irritation, swelling, drainage, or oozing and contact their vet if they notice anything unusual.

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6

ISO standards for microchips

Vet checking chip implant on Maltese dog dardespot / Getty Images

The scanner gives off radio waves that activate the microchip, allowing it to read the chip’s encoded number. Microchips operate with different frequencies, however. While there is no standardized frequency for pet chips, the International Organization of Standardization suggests that they use 134.72 kHz. The problem is, most chips in the U.S. use 125 kHz and many shelters don’t have universal scanners that can read both, though their use is increasing. Speak with your veterinarian to understand the best type of chip for your pet in the area where you live.'

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7

Use chips in addition to tags

A Tan and white, mix breed dog laying in the grass and clover, Dog with collar and tags RaeAnnaFrame / Gett Images

In addition to the chip, there are other ways to improve the chances that you can reunite with a lost pet. It’s a good idea to ensure your dog also has a collar that includes a tag with your contact information and proof of their current rabies vaccination. Some owners also opt to add a GPS tracking device to their dog’s collar, some of which provide storage for voice commands to help with long-range communication with your pet.

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8

Don’t try to implant a microchip yourself

Dog Vaccinated by Veterinarian at home aquaArts studio / Getty Images

While there are kits available that allow owners to microchip their pets, animal experts don’t recommend them and some states or local laws specify that only licensed veterinarians can implant them. If a problem arises, they know how to recognize and remedy the issue. Should you push a needle to insert the chip too deeply under the skin or not place the chip in the right position, it can be difficult or impossible to read when scanned. And in rare cases, improper implantation or sterilization procedures can cause health issues for your pet. Leave the placement to a professional.

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9

Chip failure

Lost beagle dog sits alone on the road Solovyova / Getty Images

On rare occasions, microchips fail and the scanner cannot detect them. Sometimes, it’s because the person scanning isn’t using the proper technique or the scanner is having technical issues. Other times, the dog is moving around too much and prevents the identifying number from being displayed. A matted coat or excessive fat deposits around the dog’s implantation site can also lead to readability issues, as do collars with a lot of metal on them.

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10

There are few adverse reactions

Doctor Hearing a Dog Heart Beat Rhythm PixelsEffect / Getty Images

Some pet owners may worry about adverse reactions that occur as a result of microchipping. There are a few reports, most of which are minor ones such as hair loss and swelling. While there has been some speculation in the media that the chips cause tumors, the American Veterinary Medical Association says that the risk is extremely low. The benefits of chipping your pet far outweigh the risk of a tumor developing. If you feel concerned, discuss the issue with your pet care professional.

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