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Cyberpets: Microchips Help Lost Pets Find Their Way Home

Keeping your pets safe and sound has become a huge industry, from GPS trackers for your pet’s collar to invisible fences designed to keep them where they’re supposed to be. But even the most diligent pet owners can sometimes find themselves faced with a dog or cat that’s managed to go AWOL. In those heart-wrenching situations, a microchip can make the difference between hours, days, or weeks of fruitless searching and a quick reunion with your beloved animal.

If you’ve bought or adopted a pet within the last few years, you’ve probably heard of microchipping. It’s a process that has largely become standard procedure in most adoption centers and vet clinics, frequently included with the standard new pet services like vaccinations and spaying or neutering. Despite the high-tech name, we’re not actually talking about turning your puppy into a robot. Microchipping is actually a very simple procedure.

Preparing our robot puppy overlords

Photo by Daniel Lobo.

A microchip implant is a tiny, integrated circuit placed under the skin of a dog, cat, or other animal. Using passive RFID technology, it contains an identification number that is linked to a database. Pet owners can register their pet’s microchip through various websites so that if the animal is ever lost or stolen and then found, a shelter or veterinarian can return the animal where it belongs.

The chip itself is just a tiny bit bigger than a grain of rice, and it can be implanted without anesthesia in just a few minutes at a vet’s office. It doesn’t hurt the animal at all, and once it’s in place, neither you nor your pet will even know it’s there.

Standards and information

When pet microchips first became available, every company that made a chip used its own database and its own radio frequency, requiring a proprietary scanner to read. This proved to be a huge issue for shelters and clinics, which needed multiple scanners in order to check the animals that came in.

Thankfully, most manufacturers now follow the International Standards Organization (ISO) guidelines for animal microchips so that any chip created following those guidelines can be read by any scanner. The United States doesn’t require that animals be tagged with an ISO-compliant chip, but several other countries do. In the United States, vets and shelters must rely on scanners that can read the ISO chips and the four major types of proprietary chips available today.

Show me some identification

The chip itself isn’t like a driver’s license, containing a lot of identifying information, nor is it a GPS location device. The only information the chip contains is a unique identification number and sometimes the phone number or website for the registry of the company that produced the chip.

Photo by Patrick van IJzendoorn.

It’s up to you, the pet owner, to make sure that you register the chip and keep your information up to date. The vet, shelter, or adoption agency where you acquired your pet should provide you with the instructions for setting this up initially. If you move or change phone numbers, make sure you update the chip registry!

Beam me home, Scotty

A study cited by the American Veterinary Medicine Association points out that lost dogs and cats with microchips are successfully returned to their owners 52.2% and 38.5% of the time, respectively, versus just 21.9% and 1.8% for dogs and cats without microchips. Even pets that have traveled thousands of miles have still been reunited with their owners, thanks to microchips.

One piece in the responsible pet owner puzzle

Photo Courtesy of smlp.co.uk

Being a responsible pet owner is an ongoing process. Your furry companion needs regular veterinary care, and it’s a great idea to ask your vet to scan your pet’s microchip whenever Fluffy’s in for a checkup just to make sure it’s still in working order.

While the microchip technology is very well tested, it’s not completely foolproof. Make sure that your dog or cat is wearing a collar and tags at all times, including at least one tag with a phone number where you can be reached. If Fido wanders down the road and is picked up by a good Samaritan, it’s much easier for that person to call the number on his tag than figure out how to get him to a vet to read the microchip.

The heartache and angst of losing a pet can be devastating, but planning and diligence — and a little dose of technology — will give your beloved companion a much greater chance of finding his way home!

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