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Microchipping Your Dog: What You Need to Know

Rachael Moshman
Dec. 7, 2016

Is your pup a master escape artist? Check out our list of microchip FAQs to determine if an RFID implant is the right way to go.

via unsplash.com/@frostroomhead

If you're a dog owner, chances are good that your pup's gotten away from you at least once. You might've been on a walk when he saw something in the distance and bolted. He might've dug a hole under your fence, or ran out the door while you were getting the mail.

To prepare for such incidents, you may make him wear a collar and tags...but what if they fall off? Or what if you didn't put them on at all?

It's times like these when dog microchips can be your (second) best friend. To help give you a better understanding of what they are and what they can do for you, we've put together a list of microchip FAQs that dog lovers just like you have asked. This should give you all of the basic information you need to know in order to figure out if this is the right way to go with your dog.

Q: Why Would I Need to Microchip My Dog?

A: According to the Healthy Pets section of WebMD, only 15-20% of dogs who are surrendered to shelters get reclaimed by their owners...and thousands are euthanized each year. Microchipping can help ensure that this never becomes his — and your — fate.

Why? As opposed to an ID tag, microchips can't fall off or become illegible over time. If you've registered your dog's chip, it'll give any animal care facility access to your contact information so they can get him back to you ASAP.

Q: Does This Mean That He Doesn't Need a Collar With ID Tags?

A: No! The more identification he has, the merrier — and the more likely you'll be to get him back. In fact, the ASPCA endorses a combination of pet collar/ID tag and a microchip as the most reliable system for finding your pooch if he gets lost. You can't assume that someone will know that your dog is chipped — or that they should take him to a vet to check. But, if your dog has an ID tag with your contact information on it, that makes it a whole lot easier for them to get in touch with you.

Q: What Exactly Is This "Microchip"?

A: The microchip is made up of a small glass cylinder (about the size of a grain of rice) with a tiny electronic chip — or a "radio-frequency identification device" (RFID) — inside. Each chip has a unique serial number that, when implanted, becomes your dog's personal identification number — just like the number you're assigned when you get your driver's license.

The chip also stores the phone number for the particular registry associated with that chip brand. That's where you'll register your dog's chip and connect it to your contact information. If you registered your dog's chip properly, these two pieces of information will help any animal control facility find you and return him to you.

Q: How Does It Work?

A: The microchip itself is a passive RFID, which means that it uses radio waves to transmit the information it contains — in this case, your dog's ID number and the registry's phone number. These particular chips get powered by the radio wave energy given off by an RFID scanner, which then allows them to relay their information back to the scanner. The scanner operator can see this information, call the registry's phone number and then use your pet's ID number to find you and get in touch with you.

Q: That's Cool...but Does It Track My Dog, Too?

A: Nope. Your dog's microchip is NOT a GPS, or any other kind of tracking device. It merely gives vets or shelters access to your information so they can find you in the event that your dog is lost. Therefore, it only works if: A) you register your dog's chip and connect it to your contact information, B) someone finds your dog, and C) returns him to an animal care facility that's equipped with a chip scanner.

Q: You Keep Saying That I Need to Register the Microchip. Why Is That?

A: You need to register your dog's microchip because this is the only way that someone will know that he belongs to YOU. If your contact information isn't associated with his ID number, no one will know who to contact if your dog is found. As such, this means that the responsibility is yours -- and yours alone — to make sure that your pet's chip is registered to you, and that it's updated whenever your information changes. It's extremely important that you complete this step -- otherwise, the microchip is virtually useless.

Q: All Right...so How Do I Register It?

A: Once the microchip is implanted in your dog, you'll get instructions for registering it with the proper registry — either by filling out paperwork and sending it to the registry, or by completing the forms online. During this process, you'll be able to connect your pet's ID number with your contact information.

Q: Are There Any Downsides to Microchipping?

A: According to Joe Barnes of Cesar's Way, there are some very rare medical complications associated with microchip implants, including internal bleeding and death. Over the years, there've also been some reports of either microchips being implanted in the wrong area of the dog — which Mr. Barnes notes wouldn't happen if a qualified veterinarian performed the procedure — or of microchips migrating within the dog's body over time. There've also been some cases of animals developing tumors at the microchip sites — although it's not clear whether the microchips themselves caused these tumors to appear. Compared to the millions of animals who have been microchipped, these instances are very, very rare.

It's worth noting, too, that all of these reports are few and far between, and most pet owners are confident that the benefits outweigh these potential risks.

Q: What's the Microchipping Procedure Like?

A: The microchipping procedure is very similar to giving your dog a vaccination, and is just as quick. The microchip is inserted via a needle right between the dog's shoulder blades. From beginning to end, the procedure only takes a few seconds.

Q: Where Should I Have This Procedure Done?

A: Many veterinarians — and some animal shelters — offer microchipping services. However, the best way to ensure that your dog's microchip is implanted safely and correctly is to have a qualified veterinarian perform the procedure, rather than someone like a vet tech.

Q: Will It Hurt My Dog?

A: No, it shouldn't hurt your dog. Since the microchipping procedure is basically like giving an injection, it shouldn't be painful. At the very most, he may feel a little pinch, but that's about it. There's no lingering pain or discomfort, either.

Q: How Much Does It Cost?

A: The microchipping procedure usually costs about $45-50 per animal.

Q: Will I Eventually Have to Replace My Dog's Microchip?

A: No. The microchip is designed to last for about 25 years — i.e. for your dog's entire life — so it's a one-time procedure.

Q: Can My Dog's Chip Be Read by Foreign Scanners If I Take Him Abroad?

A: It depends on where you're going. European chips emit a different frequency from those used in the U.S. Although there are some new chip scanners out on the market that can identify these different frequencies, you can't assume that all shelters have them yet. To be safe, make sure you figure out what the particular microchip requirements are of the country you're about to travel to, and whether your dog's chip meets those requirements or not.

Q: Final Question: Are Microchips Just for Dogs?

A: Nope! You can implant a microchip in virtually any animal. (Even snakes!)

Keep in mind that microchipping does not replace responsible pet ownership. It's still important you never let your dog roam free, make sure fences are secure and keep a collar with identification tags on him at all times. Microchips are a valuable added safety feature, but the responsibility to keep your pet safe still starts with you.

Article Resources

Rachael Moshman lives in Florida with her husband, daughter, four cats, one dog and a mannequin named Vivian. She blogs about her journey to lose weight, live healthier and be a good role model for body positivity on her blog, www.shrinkingmomster.com. She's written for parenting magazines across the U.S. and on four continents, and appears regularly on dozens of websites, includingScary MommyMamalode and Piccolo Universe. Her loves include binge watching TV series with her husband, having adventures with her teenage daughter, the colors hot pink and lime green and clipping recipes that she'll never actually cook. She loves to chat so reach out to her on Twitter @rachaelmoshman.

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