Pet Identification: The Benefit of Microchips

by Bruce W. Little, DVM

Summer is here and this is the time of year that we spend more time outdoors. The children are out of school and playing in the yard sometimes leaving the door open and inviting an escape by the dog or cat. Trips to the dog park or the local park for a picnic or ballgame are common. Even though they may not habitually try to run loose, most dogs will enjoy a romp through the neighborhood off their leash if given the chance. This is also true of many cats who like to explore the outside world. That is why it is a good idea to attach permanent identification to your dog or cat family member.

There are many methods of placing identification on your dog or cat. A collar with a name plate bolted to the collar works fine if the collar remains on the pet. However, many times the dog will slip off its collar while making its escape. This can happen by slipping his collar over his head by pulling away while being walked on a leash by a family member, or from an attentive passerby who acknowledges the dog is on the loose and tries to catch him by grabbing his collar. If the collar has slipped from the animal, it is rendered useless. It has been customary in the past to attach the required rabies vaccination tag to the dog or cat’s collar. This process can also be a problem since the tags are lost when the collar is removed, or when the pet goes through a fence or bushes that catches the tags and detaches them from the collar. There are newer, high technology pet identification methods available today that gives your pet the best chance for recovery in case he or she decides to leave the home and scout out the neighborhood.

My choice of a permanent pet identification marker is the microchip. Microchips currently used in pets are not a GPS device and cannot track your animal if it gets lost or stolen. Yes, there are people out there who would steal your pet for the amount of money for which they can sell them. These are called, “dog flippers” where they either steal your dog out of the yard, or if you tie it to a post while you run into the post office or some such facility. They then list the dog for sale on an internet site such as Craig’s List or Face book. Many times these unscrupulous people will respond to posters, advertisements and Face book postings of a found dog, or claim they are the owner of a lost dog at an animal shelter, then upon leaving with the dog, sell it on the internet. According to the American Kennel Club who has been keeping records of dog flippers since 2008, a total of 637 dogs were reported stolen in 2014.

The microchips presently used in pets contain identification numbers only. They do not contain the dog or cat’s medical history or contact information of the animal’s owner. Both medical history and contact information should be kept secure so that the finder of the pet cannot gain personal information about the pet’s owner and use that information for other purposes. A microchip is a small electronic chip enclosed in a glass cylinder that is about the size of a grain of rice. Your veterinarian keeps a supply of microchips on hand and can implant one in your pet on most routine animal hospital visits. It is injected under the skin with a hypodermic needle in a universally agreed upon anatomical location, and should remain in place for the lifetime of the pet. In the event the pet goes missing, if found and taken to either an animal shelter or a veterinarian, it can be scanned with a universal microchip reader and its identification number identified and recorded. The shelter or animal hospital workers are then able to seek out the identity of the owner of the dog or cat through a registration process that is kept by the manufacturer of the microchip. Your veterinarian, at the time of implanting the microchip will inform you about how to register your pet with the manufacturer’s database. At this time, there is no central database in the United States for registering microchips. Each manufacturer maintains its own database updating it as needed. The information you provide to the manufacturer’s microchip registry will be used to contact you in the event your pet is found and the registry is contacted by the finder. In 2009 the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) launched its Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool, www.petmicrochiplookup.org which provides the listing of a manufacturer with which the microchip’s code is associated as well as if the chip information is found in participating registries. The database does not provide owner information for the microchip. The user must contact the manufacturer or database associated with that microchip.

A frequent question that I am asked is, “will a microchip really help me get my pet back if it is missing.” The answer is an unqualified, “yes”! According to a study reported in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in July 2009 (by Lord, et. al.), dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9% of the time, whereas microchipped dogs were returned to their owners 52.2% of the time. Cats without microchips were united with their owners only 1.8% of the time, whereas microchipped cats were back home 38.5% of the time. A recent newspaper article revealed that a Texas woman retrieved her cat after it had been missing for eight years because the cat had been implanted with a microchip. For microchipped animals that weren’t returned to their owners, most of the time it was due to incorrect owner information or failure of the owner to register their pet in the manufacturer’s database at all. Any database with which you register your pet’s microchip needs to be regularly updated, especially the database administered by the manufacturer of the chip implanted in your pet. If you’ve moved or if your telephone number changes for any reason, be sure to update the information in your pet’s microchip manufacturer database as quickly as possible.

There is really no maintenance required for microchips themselves. Millions of animals have been microchipped in the past 25 years or so, since microchips became available. There are very few problems reported from that great number of implants. Movement of the microchip from its original implantation site is the most common finding, with failure of the microchip, hair loss over the implantation site, swelling and tumor formation reported in extremely low numbers. There are only three things that the pet owner must do once the pet is microchipped: 1) make sure the microchip is registered in the manufacturer’s database; 2) ask your veterinarian to scan you pet’s microchip once per year to make sure the microchip is still working; and 3) keep your pet’s registration information updated. In 2013, the AAHA and the AVMA designated August 15 as the annual National Check the Chip Day so people will be reminded to get their pets checked for their microchips and to ensure the information in their database is current.

Technology has brought a new dimension to pet identification in just the past year or two. Pawscout is a digital tag and pet finder for cats and dogs that you can use on your mobile devices as an app. With Pawscout you can track your pet within a 200 foot radius of where you stand. Finding Rover uses facial recognition technology to reunite lost dogs with their owners. This app works when a person uploads a facial picture of their missing pet and when a lost dog is found animal shelters, animal hospitals and other Finding Rover users upload pictures of found dogs. A found dog and a lost dog are then matched based on the technology and the owner is notified. Whistle is a wearable device that is placed on the collar of your dog that traces the activity of the animal. Several companies make GPS and other tracking devices for dogs and cats. With all these options, it is truly possible to recover most all pets that go missing. It is up to the people members of the family to protect their pet family members by providing them with permanent identification.
Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back for more articles from Bruce W. Little, DVM on Veterinarians.com, and follow him on Twitter @DrBruceLittle!