Check the Chip: All About Pet Microchips

It’s Check Your Pet Microchip Day! Your cats and dogs are microchipped, right? Both Bravo-Dawg and Karma-Kat have microchips so that if the worst happens, we’ll be reunited. I don’t even what to think about losing my pets.

On July 4, 2012, Dora the German Shepherd jumped the fence of her Frisco, Texas yard due to fireworks fears. That same year, Kesha, the gray tabby cat, escaped her San Diego home and disappeared. Both pets won the lottery, though…so read on, to see why “Lucky 7” applies to both pets.

lost pets

According to the American Humane Association, over 10 million dogs and cats go missing in U.S. every year. About 30 percent of pets will become lost at some point. Without identification, 90 percent won’t return home. A microchip offers permanent identification and is considered the gold standard for pet identification and finding lost pets.

Microchips can and do migrate. Special caps or coating on the chip help prevent this problem, but it’s best to double-check. That’s why August 15 Check Your Chip Day reminder makes sure your pets remain protected. Have your veterinarian check for the chip at well-pet visits to ensure your information remains up to date. When migrated too far, consider re-chipping.

pet microchip

What Are Pet Microchips?

Pet identification goes beyond microchips, of course. Someone who finds your missing pet won’t be able to see the microchip or access the information. Microchipped dogs and cats should also wear a collar tag, but those can be lost. Cats especially dislike wearing collars. Microchips last a lifetime. They’re easy to find and to trace. Virtually all shelters, rescue groups, and vet clinics in the U.S. have scanners.

microchip for pets

close-up photo of a microchip for pets

The microchip, embedded in surgical glass about the size of a grain of rice, is injected beneath the skin in the shoulder region. If your pet objects to vaccinations—or could care less—he’ll likely react the same when he’s chipped. Once implanted, chips are read using a hand-held scanner over the shoulder region.

This is NOT a tracking system. It’s simply an identification number (9, 10 or 15-digits, depending on the chip) that is linked to a database that contains your individual information. That means you must maintain up-to-date information if you move or your phone number changes, for example, so that your lost pet can be reunited with you.

microchip scanner

Veterinarian checking microchip implant in vet clinic

Microchips and Database Services

You have a choice of microchips and database services. To make an informed choice, do your homework. Cost is the least important—your cat and dog are priceless!

What happens after the lost pet is scanned? The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) offers a microchip look-up option that helps the shelter or veterinarian to know which database to access after scanning a lost pet.

If the microchip is registered with a database, you’ll get the contact information for the database and the last date the pet owner’s information was updated. You will NOT get the owner’s contact name—you’ll need to contact the individual registry for that. If the microchip is NOT registered with a database, this service will give you the most likely place to access, so the veterinarian or shelter can find out who implanted the chip and track it that way.

microchip scanning

Veterinarian identifies cat by microchip implant.

AKC Reunite

AKC Reunite, available through the American Kennel Club, keeps costs low to encourage pets to be microchipped. The service claims to have reunited over 500,000 pets with owners. Lifetime enrollment costs $17.50, with no annual renewal.

As the nation’s largest not-for-profit pet recovery service, AKC Reunite registers any pet (cat, dog, bird, anything!) in its system, even the chip numbers from other providers. The Lost Pet Alert service broadcasts missing pets to area shelters, veterinarians, and pet lovers in your area. You can also upgrade your pet’s registration with a one-time $15 membership fee to access the Pet Poison Hotline.

AVID

AVID, created by a veterinarian, offers the FriendChip™ along with the PetTrac Recovery database. This option offers Standard Membership for $19.95 to enroll one pet, or $49.95 to enroll three pets together.

There is no annual charge—this is for the lifetime of the pet—and no additional charge for phone number changes, but a $6 service fee is charged for each address change. Premium Membership (an additional one-time charge of $6) allows pet parents to update information through the PetTracs Pet Network system online for no additional cost.

HomeAgain

HomeAgain cost varies depending on where you purchase it. My veterinarian charges $39.50 to microchip Bravo-Dawg and Karma-Kat. There’s an initial $19.99 membership fee to register your contact information into the service, charged annually thereafter to remain active.

HomeAgain provides a host of additional benefits: lost pet alerts to networks that include veterinary clinics, shelters, and volunteer PetRescuers in your area; lost pet posters; free access to the ASPCA Animal Emergency Hotline; and up to $500 airfare to fly a lost pet home when found more than 500 miles away. Once registered, the microchip information remains permanently in the database, even if the annual renewal fee is not paid.

Scanner Troubles?

Microchips reunite pets and save their lives, but not if they can’t be read. Microchips transmit specific frequencies like a small radio station, and scanners must be “tuned” correctly to read the information.

Most of the microchips used in the U.S. operate at 125 kHz frequency. Some brands transmit at 128 kHz. But in Europe, the International Standards Organization (ISO) requires 134.2 kHz chips. Bayer Animal Health ResQ chip uses this technology, which can be a good option if your pet travels outside of the United States.

Not all scanners read all chip frequencies. In the past, patents in place by some manufacturers prevented a competitor from legally selling scanners that read their proprietary chips. Since most U.S. chips operate at the 125 kHz frequency, most scanners are tuned to easily detect these chips but may have difficulty reading the ISO (134kHz) chips. To answer this challenge, “universal” microchip readers have been developed.

Universal Scanners

The Avid MiniTracker 3 has a patented Multi-Mode technology that allows it to read microchips from different manufacturers, and display any AVID, FECAVA, TROVAN and ISO (FDX-B) coded radio frequency identification tags.

The HomeAgain Universal WorldScan™ Reader Plus can detect and read 125kHz, 128kHz and 134kHz microchips. It can also read and display temperature sensing microchips. The Universal WorldScan Reader Plus can also transmit microchip IDs to a personal computer via a USB cable or Bluetooth®.

Not all database programs are created equal, either. Before you microchip your dog or cat, ask if the database provides 24/7/365 service. Find out the frequency of the microchip and if local shelters can scan and read it.

Dora & Kesha “Lucky 7” Happy Endings!

What about Dora and Kesha from the opening? After seven months lost, Dora was found by the shelter. They scanned and read her microchip and called to reunite Dora with her family. I’m sure they’ve since taken steps for a more secure fence to keep Dora safe.

It took seven YEARS to find Kesha. The San Diego Humane Society couldn’t reach her owner (she’d temporarily moved to German!). They phoned her backup telephone number–her sister–and Kesha reunited with her family this past July 2019, thanks to her microchip.

Are your pets microchipped? What steps do you take to protect your cats and dogs? Do tell!

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