Microchipping Your Cat

By Courtney Barnes, BSc, DVM; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Cheryl Yuill, DVM, MSc, CVH

What is a microchip?

Today, microchip technology is found everywhere, from computers and cell phones, to implants in wild animals for tracking their movements, to pet microchips that provide identification information. Different types of microchips work in different ways, depending on their purpose.

The purpose of microchips used for pets is to provide a form of permanent identification. These microchip implants are called radio frequency identification (RFID) tags. They are tiny, about the size of a grain of rice, and are passive, which means that they passively store a unique identification number and do not actively transmit any information.

The microchip implanted in your cat has no battery and no internal power source; it sits inertly in the cat until it is read by a special microchip scanner.

How is the microchip put into my cat?

Before insertion, the sterile microchip is scanned in the package to confirm that the identification code of the transponder is the same as that shown on the package bar code label. Next, the needle containing the microchip is loaded into the application gun or syringe and your cat is positioned for the injection.

For cats, the standard site for microchip placement is under the skin between the shoulder blades. For correct placement, your cat should be either standing or lying on their stomach. The loose skin between the shoulder blades is gently pulled up, and the needle is quickly inserted. The applicator trigger is squeezed, injecting the microchip into the tissue. After insertion, the cat is scanned to make sure that the chip is reading properly.

How long does it take?

The procedure is fast, taking about the same amount of time it takes to give any other injection. It takes more time to do the registration paperwork than it does to implant the microchip.

Is it painful to insert the chip?

It hurts about as much as having blood drawn. The chips are usually inserted without incident in awake animals, even in the tiniest kitten. Although the needle is large, it is sharp so that most animals do not even flinch when the chip is inserted. Some clients choose to have the microchip implanted when their cat is spayed or neutered so that the cat can be anesthetized for the injection, but this is not necessary; the microchip can be implanted at any time that is convenient.

My cat never goes outdoors. Does she still need a microchip?

Even the most responsible pet owners cannot ensure that their cat will not get lost. Although most indoor cats tend to stay indoors, there is always the possibility that they could escape if somebody opens a door at the wrong time, if they manage to push through loose window screen when something catches their attention outside, or if there is an emergency where the home must be evacuated. Indoor cats that are not familiar with the great outdoors can become very frightened in these situations and may not be able to figure out how to get back home.

My cat already wears a collar with a tag on it. Does she need a microchip?

If your cat gets lost or picked up by animal control, the more types of identification that she has, the better.

Although collars are a very visible form of identification, they can accidentally fall off or be intentionally removed. If your cat does wear a collar, it should be a breakaway type so that it does not get caught on anything and cause an injury. As tags get old and worn, the information on the tag may become unreadable. This means that your cat’s collar is not a permanent form of identification.

My cat has a tattoo. Does she need a microchip?

While tattoos are permanent, they are not always a helpful form of identification. The first problem with tattoos is that they become faded over time, making them difficult to read correctly. The second, more important problem is that there are no common databases for tattoo information, so any information about the pet and its owner can be difficult to trace.

Microchips cannot be misread, and the identification number is tamper-proof. The information about the pet and owner is usually readily retrievable from the database.

Once my cat has been microchipped, is there anything else I need to do?

Yes, you must register the number with the appropriate agency. Your veterinarian will provide you with the documents and contact information and will tell you if any fees are required. If you do not register your pet in the database, the whole procedure will be pointless, as the microchip number will not be associated with anyone.

If you move or change your contact information, be sure to update the information with the registration agency. If your pet is lost and recovered, this information is necessary to reunite you with your pet.

How will the microchip help my cat get home?

Humane societies and animal shelters have universal microchip readers and scan all animals that come into their care. If a lost or stray cat is brought to a veterinary clinic, the staff use their reader to check for a microchip. Since the occasional microchip may move out of position, the microchip reader is passed over the entire body of the cat to ensure that the chip is detected, if present.

The microchip reader detects the electronic code embedded in the chip and displays the identification number on its screen. The registration database is then checked for this identification number (either online or by telephone), and the pet owner’s contact information is retrieved. Steps are being taken to standardize the readers and develop databases that can be readily accessed.

"Cats with microchips were found to be more than twenty times as likely to be reunited with their families."

Millions of cats get lost every year, and those without microchips have less than a 5% chance of being reunited with their families. Cats with microchips were found to be more than twenty times as likely to be reunited with their families. In cases where owners of a microchipped cat were not found, it was because the telephone number was incorrect or disconnected, or the owners did not return the phone call or letter from the finder.

To help you keep your cat as safe as possible, make sure that your cat has a microchip and an ID tag, and that you have a clear photograph of your cat that shows any unique markings. If your cat does get lost, you should distribute flyers that include your cat’s photograph and contact information, contact your local humane societies or animal shelters, alert your veterinarian, and advertise your lost cat on social media.

Are there any other benefits to microchipping?

Another important reason to microchip your cat is for international travel.  If you plan to travel or move to a different country with your cat, it is important to check the requirements. Your veterinarian will have to complete export paperwork and many countries require pets to be microchipped or they will not be allowed in. Rabies vaccination is also required for travel, and if the rabies certificate does not contain the microchip number, it may not be considered valid.

Additionally, having a microchip allows for the option of electronic pet doors with microchip sensors. These doors can be installed to let pets in and out, as well as into specific feeding areas – an option that is particularly helpful if you have multiple cats that need different diets.

Related Articles