Losing a dog can be an extremely stressful and even traumatic experience. According to a recent article from Dogtime, over the course of a dog’s lifetime, one-third of all dogs will become separated from their owners. Sadly, only one in ten will actually be reunited. The widespread practice of microchipping technology is thankfully working to reduce these odds. The effectiveness in locating lost pets was demonstrated in a shelter study where 440 cats and dogs were fitted with microchips and 220 were designated as controls. After the animals were adopted, 73% of the microchipped pets who then became lost were able to be relocated. This is contrasted with the 13% recovered who did not have a microchip. This study also published the reasons why lost dogs were not reunited with their owners, and none were due to faulty microchips. All were due to human error!
This article will explain what a microchip is, how it works, and where a dog microchip is placed. By the end of this article, you’ll have a greater understanding of how these useful chips operate and function.
What is a Microchip?
A microchip is a tiny, cylinder-shaped rod which runs approximately 12 mm in length, equivalent to a grain of rice. It’s made up of four subcomponents, all encased by a thin, biocompatible sheath. Because this outer layer of bioglass is lined with various polymers, the body does not recognize the chip as a foreign entity to be attacked with an immunological response. This means that the microchip can remain undisturbed in its same, isolated location, conveniently located near the surface of the skin. The most common insertion site is between the dog’s shoulder blades. In this position it can be easily injected, located, and scanned, all the while being out of reach from the dog’s mouth or paws.
Is it a Legal Requirement?
Canine microchipping is not legally required by any US state; the one exception is Hawaii. Travelers must provide documentation that their pets are microchipped in order to enter. Outside of the US, microchipping is not only widely embraced, but legally mandated. According to a list by Pet Travel, there are 106 countries that require microchipping, which applies to both permanent and temporary residents; examples include England, Germany, and Sweden. Despite the lack of a legal mandate, the frequency endorsed by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) agrees with those proposed by the International Standards Organization. If you plan on traveling with your dog, it is highly suggested to get him microchipped as soon as possible.
In the US, only authorized veterinarians are legally allowed to insert the microchip. Although this simple procedure is not classified as a surgery, veterinary assistants cannot conduct this routine service. Most veterinarians will gladly explain benefits, address concerns, and answer questions about microchipping your dog. The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) endorse microchipping and have created an easy-to-use microchip lookup database. Microchipping is simply the best method for electronic pet detection. It is simple and fast to implant, inexpensive, and virtually pain free.
How Does it Work?
Each and every microchip, regardless of brand, is associated with a unique identification number which can be activated by a universal scanner. Following the initial implantation, the scanner is placed over the area containing the microchip. The scanner emits 134.2 kHz radio waves, prompting microchip activation. At the moment of activation, the microchip sends a unique identification number to the scanner. When the microchip is properly registered, the number can then be easily looked up in the registry database. Identification numbers are linked to the manufacturer’s contact information. Due to privacy concerns, an owner’s personal contact information is not generally stored on the microchip registry database. Instead, individual manufacturers are responsible for maintaining a database linking a microchip with the animal’s owner.
Since there is not yet a national standard for microchip numbering and identification, the microchip registry simply functions as an intermediary database. A few manufacturers, however, have designed microchips with the ability to directly transmit a consenting owner’s personal contact information. While this allows for a more efficient reunification process, it also has a number of potential privacy concerns. Given that the microchip registry is a public database, it cannot be responsible for everyone who may access an individual’s personal information.
A Few Misconceptions
- Scanning Frequency: One common misconception is that microchips are only scanned upon activation and attempted reunification. Actually, microchips are scanned throughout a dog’s lifetime, even when he or she is not lost. This is commonly done during a routine veterinary visit. Scanning the microchip repeatedly does not mean that anything is wrong with the device. It simply ensures that the device is still working properly.
- Microchip Error: In a microchip-reunification study by Indoor Pet, there were four reasons that accounted for why lost microchipped dogs could not find their home. The most common reasons for unsuccessful reunification were the fault of the owner and the veterinarian, never due to a failed microchip. The first problem was the neglect of the owner to provide a correct phone number or update an outdated one. Next was due to the owner’s inability to respond to both a voicemail and letter. The third and fourth reasons had to do with improper microchip registration or failure to do so altogether – a critical responsibility which falls on the veterinarian. This goes to show that modern microchips are virtually flawless. In the case of a lost dog, technology is not usually to blame – we are.
- Operational Error: It is possible that microchips might not be detected due to poor technique or a dysfunctional scanner. Although this is possible, scanner technology has improved tremendously. In addition, modern microchip scanners have a universal, forward-and-backward-reading functionality. This attribute increases the odds of detecting all microchips, even those that emit slightly lower frequencies.
- GPS Microchips: Unfortunately, GPS microchips do not exist. This erroneous idea relates to a fundamental misunderstanding of the microchip technology. Frantic owners of a lost dog oftentimes forget that a microchip does not have the same functions as a GPS tracking device. Microchips use a radio wave frequency to transmit a unique identification number, not a unique position. It cannot provide any information about a dog’s past or present physical location.
- All Microchips Are The Same: This is simply not true. Since microchips are not legally required, there is not a “one-size-fits-all” model. Competing microchip manufacturers offer the same basic technology and veterinarians must decide which type to purchase when ordering office supplies. While certain microchips may transmit at slightly different frequencies, the widespread availability of universal scanning machines makes it easy to interpret a range of radio frequencies associated with different brands.
Where do Dog Microchips Go? The Four Phases of Microchip Injection
- Pre-Injection: Children or adults go to the doctor for regular vaccines, without the use of a local anesthetic. The same principle holds true for canine microchipping. While a shot is never a comfortable experience, it has a pain threshold of a pinch and is over in a few seconds. To prepare for insertion, the chip is tested, sterilized, and placed in the needle’s syringe for delivery.
- Injection: Microchip insertion is typically done in puppies during one of the first office visits. If your puppy is being sprayed or neutered, they will be temporarily unconscious under anesthesia. If requested, veterinarians can quickly insert the microchip while the anesthesia is still in effect so the dog won’t feel a thing. If microchipping is done as a separate procedure, anesthesia will not be used. Similar to any kind of routine vaccination, dogs may flinch, whine, or yelp upon needle contact. To minimize skin sensitivity, the veterinarian will pinch a piece of skin and pull up until fully extended. The delivery device is inserted in the subcutaneous tissue, which is the layer just below the epidermis. When withdrawing the needle, the veterinarian will do one final pinch to ensure the microchip stays in place. From the outside, the microchip can be easily located beneath the skin and centered between the shoulder blades.
- Post-Injection: Following insertion, the site may be sensitive to pressure, so it is always a good practice to avoid petting or scratching the area. This local sensitivity, however, does not usually last any longer than a few minutes. There is typically no need for post-insertion wound care, unless the site becomes infected. This is extremely rare when the procedure is done by an experienced veterinarian. As a general rule, any form of intensive exercise should be avoided for 24 hours.
- Follow-Up: Because microchips have an average lifetime of 25 years, they will never need to be replaced. Once inserted, no maintenance is required.
Post-Injection Health Concerns
In the rare case that the microchip was improperly inserted, abnormalities may result. Seek veterinary care if you notice oozing or swelling at the site of insertion. While it is important to monitor the insertion site, dog owners should not be overly worried or cautious since adverse reactions are extremely rare. According to a database by the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), 4 million dogs have been microchipped since 1996, with only 391 issues reported. Based on this data, every dog has a 0.009 percent chance of experiencing an adverse reaction. Of the issues reported, microchip migration is the most common complaint. If inserted properly, microchip migration will not occur. Unfortunately, this data does not specify whether all microchip insertions were conducted by a licensed veterinarian. Plus, since this study was done 20 years ago, improvements in the veterinary procedures and medical instruments are not considered. Other than microchip movement, additional problems included canine bacterial infection, swelling, dog hair loss, tumors, and microchip failure.
Given that adverse reactions are so rare, microchipping is mandated in the UK and most parts of Europe. As with any injection, vaccine, or dog surgery, complications are always possible. These countries have witnessed through the years of use that the benefits outweigh the risks. Any dog owner who still has any concerns about microchipping should consult with the veterinarian who will be conducting the procedure. While microchip insertion is simple and fast, the removal procedure is much more intensive. Unlike insertion, it is considered a surgery and may require general anesthesia.
What Happens When a Dog is Found?
When a stray dog is found, the first intake step is always the same – feel for a microchip, identify it with a scanner, and call the number associated with the chip’s manufacturer. From there, the manufacturer representative matches the numerical code with the owner’s contact information. This requires that the microchip was properly registered and the owner’s information is accurate. In animal shelters, dogs are required to be scanned at any one of the following four times: intake, medical processing, pre-adoption, and pre-euthanasia.
There are a number of heartwarming success stories that showcase microchip’s ability to bring a dog back to its owner. In one situation, a dog escaped from the family’s front yard. Acting as fast as possible, the family posted photos and checked shelters. Almost two years later, the dog was found! Picked up by a rescue organization as a street-dwelling stray, the dog was scanned for a microchip, and luckily, there was one in place. Shortly after, the family was contacted and the dog was home at last. If a dog is lost for such a long period of time, it is more than likely that the dog could be living in a completely different town, or sadly, not living at all. So, if you’re considering whether or not to have your dog microchipped – keep in mind, that the injection pain of a moment is only just that, a moment.
Creating a Proactive Identification Plan
In addition to microchipping, the following two tactics can help to improve your lost dog’s chance of being found:
- Identification Tags: Although tag engraving is the oldest, most traditional way of identifying a dog’s owner, it should in no way be discounted. A collar with identification tags is the most common way lost dogs are identified. Be sure that this information is accurate and continually updated in order to ensure your dog’s safety. In the event that the collar was removed, a microchip is the single most important means for prompt identification.
- Rabies Tags: If your dog has an identification tag, then it should have a rabies tag too. These numbers can be reported to the county office for animal control, which can then be identified in an online registry system. Unfortunately, dogs found outside of business hours or on county holidays maybe out of luck. Microchip databases, on the other hand, are available 24/7, 365 days a year. In addition to numerical identification, rabies tags are also important for letting the public know that the dog is safe to approach. More than likely, bystanders will not risk moving a lost dog’s collar and acquiring this deadly disease for the sake of reunification. On the reverse side, individuals should always use caution when approaching a dog that appears to be lost, and should avoid doing so altogether whenever a rabies tag is not readily apparent.
- GPS Tracking: If your dog is prone to getting lost or if this is a concern for you, consider pairing a microchip with a GPS device, such as a tracking collar. Another option is to attach a GPS keychain to your dog’s current collar. With a quick Google Search, many modern GPS devices have the added convenience of operating through a phone app. This ensures an effective backup plan in the event that one of the devices stops working.
- Meet your Neighbors: Whether you live in an apartment building or residential neighborhood, introduce your dog to your neighbors. It is helpful to have as many eyes looking out for your dog as possible.
Although canine microchipping is not federally mandated, microchipping is a best practice and should be strongly considered. There is no maintenance involved and very few health concerns. Moreover, it is easy, fast, affordable, and virtually pain-free. While a microchip cannot guarantee that a lost dog is found, it significantly increases the odds.
Microchipping of Animals FAQ. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/FAQs/Pages/Microchipping-of-animals-FAQ.aspx
Dog and Cat ID Microchipping: HomeAgain Pet Microchip. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.homeagain.com/what-is-a-microchip.html
Mandatory Microchipping. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://isaronline.org/programs/dog-and-cat-overpopulation/mandatory-microchipping/
Countries that Require Microchips for Pet Travel . (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.pettravel.com/passports_microchip_countries.cfm
How Are Microchips Implanted? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.petfinder.com/dogs/lost-and-found-dogs/how-microchips-implanted/
What are the statistics on microchip success stories? • Microchip ID Systems. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.microchipidsystems.com/faq-items/microchip-success-stories/