What is a pet microchip?
Today, microchip technology is found everywhere, from computers and cell phones, to implants in wild animals for tracking of 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. This 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, so 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 the cat is positioned for the injection. For cats, the standard site for microchip placement is in the subcutaneous tissue between the shoulder blades. For correct placement, your cat should be either standing or lying on her 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 my cat?
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.
I’ve heard that microchips can harm my cat. Is this true?
The components of the microchip are encased in a biocompatible material, meaning that they are non-toxic and do not cause any sort of allergic reaction as long as the chip is implanted using a sterile injector needle and proper technique. Some microchips do contain a material that encourages connective tissue to form around the chip and hold it in place, but this is not harmful.
A microchip implant is a passive RFID device. With no internal power source, it remains inert until it is powered by the scanner. When it is scanned, the only thing it does is transmit the identification number to the scanner. Once the cat is scanned the number is looked up in a database to retrieve the contact information for the cat’s owner.
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 if something catches their attention outside, or if there is an emergency situation where the home has to 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 he need a microchip?
While tattoos are permanent, in reality they are not always that helpful as a 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 benefits of microchips are that they 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 with your corresponding contact information to the database, the whole procedure will be pointless. For this reason, many veterinarians submit the paperwork for you.
Although the implanted microchip will continue to function over your cat’s lifetime without any need for maintenance, the system will not work unless you keep your contact information current. If you move or change your telephone number, make sure you update the information with the registration agency.
How will the microchip help my cat get home?
Most, if not all, humane societies and animal shelters now have universal microchip readers, and scan all animals that come into their care. If a lost cat is brought to a veterinary clinic, the veterinary staff will use their reader to check for a microchip. Since the occasional microchip may move out of position, the microchip reader will be passed over the entire body of the cat in order to ensure that the chip will be detected if present.
The reader will detect the electronic code embedded in the chip and display 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.
Is there anything else I should know?
Millions of cats get lost every year, and cats that do not have 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. The main reasons that owners were not found if the cat was microchipped, were that the telephone number was incorrect or disconnected, or the owners did not return the phone call or letter from the finder.
"Cats with microchips were found to be more than twenty times as likely to be reunited with their families."
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 showing 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.