Misconceptions About Pet Microchips

(MS) — In the past, individuals safeguarded their pets solely by identification tags on their collars to help retrieve an animal should he wander off. However, for any dog or cat owner who had a “Houdini” on his hands, identification tags proved useless when a pet squirmed out of a collar or managed to lose the tags in the course of everyday activities.

As a result, the search was on for other methods of permanent pet identification that would be more foolproof than tin tags.

Pet tattoos, similar to some branding methods used with livestock, became a viable option — and certainly a permanent one. With tattoos, a series of numbers are placed near the animal’s right hind leg. Yet the idea of tattooing a pet can be unsettling to some animal lovers, and the system is not without errors — mostly human. If a lost pet with a tattoo is found and the tattoo is overlooked due to fur matting in the area, or if a pet’s temperament does not easily allow a shelter worker to identify the tattoo, this identification is rendered useless.


Approximately 10 years ago, the concept of pet microchips came on the scene, promising big things for the pet-care industry. Microchips are a form of automatic identification technology. These small wonders — about the size of a grain of rice — contain an identification code that is transmitted when a special radio frequency scanner is waved over the chip. This airtight glass object is injected just under the skin at the back of a pet’s neck or surgically inserted. The microchip does not require batteries, and its electronic circuitry is only activated when the chip is being scanned. The scanner will display an LCD readout of an identification number, which is then matched up to a database to identify the pet’s owner and contact information.

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) Companion Animal Recovery (CAR) program, which maintains worldwide databases to help reunite people with lost pets, more than 900,000 pets and companion animals have been registered in its database — and they’re only one of many database programs out there. There are likely thousands more pets implanted with microchips across the country.


Although microchips are a step in the right direction to safeguarding animals, some organizations and people feel they may give false hope to pet owners, primarily because of microchip inefficiency.

According to the American Pet Association, the ineffectiveness of microchips is largely due to lack of action by veterinarian and shelter workers and the incompatibility of certain microchip brands and scanners. The association has found that less than 1 percent of veterinarians scan every new client’s pet to see if they are chipped. Many humane societies are not required to scan, and most do not scan incoming pets. In addition, microchips can fail or migrate to other areas of a pet’s body, making scanning ineffective.

There are drawbacks to microchips as a form of pet identification, and some feel they outweigh the benefits. First and foremost, the chip is not visible, does not emit a signal and cannot be tracked. This means a pet owner is solely dependent upon a person, be it a shelter worker, vet or animal-care officer, to scan the animal to check for a chip. Plus, if an animal is found by a regular individual who does not have access to a scanner, the chip may never be discovered. Although microchipped animals are also provided a rubber tag as a secondary identification purpose, this tag often wears out in a few months, rendering it illegible.

There is also the concern over incompatibility between certain manufacturer’s chips and the scanners used to read them. In a case reported by CBS News, Lisa Massey, of Stafford, Va., lost her microchipped dog Hayden, who ended up in an area shelter. The shelter didn’t realize the universal scanner it was using wouldn’t work with the specific brand chip that was implanted by the local animal hospital. Although the dog was in fact microchipped, the scanner failed to read it, and subsequently Hayden was put to sleep.

Massey said, “I want other people to be aware. I think microchipping is good, but they just need to be aware they have the right chip in their animal.”

Some argue that microchipping is big business and many companies are simply concerned with getting their chip on the market without regulating the technology or making it universal for use. Once the pet owner pays for the chip (between $30 to $50 for implantation) there is no accountability to the chip companies.

“I think it is very irresponsible of profit-making corporations to put their focus on making a buck at the same time they are selling a false sense of security to people,” says Patricia Mercer, a spokesperson for the Houston Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.


Microchips do offer the advantage of having another method of identification should a pet become lost. In addition to chips, there are other measures to take to protect an animal:

– Routinely check that a pet’s collar has identification tags in place that list a phone number or address.

– Be diligent in closing doors or yard fences to prevent animals from escaping.

– Immediately contact an area animal shelter if a pet should become lost so they will have it on file.

– Always walk a dog on a leash to avoid his wandering off.

– If a pet is microchipped, keep the monitoring company apprised of any changes to contact information, and notify them of relocation to a new address.

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