One in 3 pets will get lost during their lifetime and 10 million pets are lost in the U.S. every year. That’s an estimate of the American Humane Association. Thankfully, there are several ways of identifying and returning a pet with her owners. Microchips for dogs are an affordable, tamper-proof option.
However, microchips do come with a few downsides.
What is a microchip?
Let’s start with the most pressing question: What exactly is a microchip? Well, a microchip is a small transponder device with a unique 9, 10, or 15 digit number.
This number is part of a pet recovery system. It’s injected into a pet’s body and stores contact information about their owner. For example, their name, address and phone number.
Additionally, microchips for dogs also store information about the dog (or cat) itself such as:
- Birth date
- Coat color
- Spayed/Neutered status
- Rabies tag number
- Other characteristics
The information stored on it can be read by a microchip reader like the ones that vets, shelters, and rescue centers have. That being said, it’s a convenient way of reuniting lost pets with their owners.
There are three pet identification microchip frequencies in use in the U.S.: 125 kHz, 128 kHz and 134.2 kHz.
134.2 kHz is the ISO standard (International Standards Organization), which is the primary frequency used worldwide.
Why my dog Wally is microchipped
Hi, this is Barbara. I write for That Mutt regularly. My dog Wally was already microchipped when I adopted him from a rescue organization in early 2019. That’s why I didn’t have to pay for the procedure.
As a matter of fact, all I had to do was reach out to Home Again, his microchip company, and update the ownership information they had on file.
I gave them my name and address, phone number, and provided a more recent picture of Wally than they had on file. Additionally, I also updated Wally’s name because I had changed it from Pablo to Wally.
So yes, you probably guessed it, I was happy that Wally already came with a chip. If Wally hadn’t been microchipped, it would have been one of the first to-do’s on my doggie errand list!
Microchips for dogs provide peace of mind
Sure, Wally always wears his collar along with several different ID tags. But I know that if he takes off unexpectedly and loses his collar tag with my phone number on it, chances are still fairly high that he’ll be returned to me because of his microchip.
That’s because shelters, rescue centers and vets have microchip readers. Even some police stations have them.
Here’s an interesting fact for you. My current home state is North Carolina. In 2013, the Senate made it mandatory for animal control to scan stray dogs they pick up for a microchip! This new law was implemented in an effort to relieve overcrowding in animal shelters. Until then, it was only recommended that strays be scanned for a chip.
Do you know if your state passed a similar bill? Let us know in the comment section, we’d be interested to learn about it!
How big is a microchip for dogs?
A microchip is only the size of a grain of rice. It’s small enough not to cause any discomfort in the pet’s body. It’s injected into the fatty tissue between the pet’s shoulder blades using a needle.
This needle is larger than the ones used for vaccinations, which is why Dr. Karen Becker recommends to use a local anesthetic when the microchip is placed. Although, this is sometimes not required.
Pros and benefits of microchips for dogs
Overall, microchips for dogs have a lot going for them! The main benefits are:
- Proof that the pet is yours. It’s close to impossible to remove a microchip once it’s been injected without major surgery. This comes in handy in case of theft or loss. Or even proving to a shelter that the dog is yours.
- Pet protection. Peace of mind in case your pet gets lost, especially when he’s not wearing a collar with identifying tags.
- Early injection. Microchips can be implanted into a pet’s body once they’re 8 weeks old and weigh at least 2 lb.
- Lasts a lifetime. Microchips don’t require a battery, power supply, or any similar moving parts to work. They’re designed to last for 20+ years, so it shouldn’t need to be replaced throughout a pet’s life.
- Easy microchipping process. The injection is comparable to a vaccination, so it’s a very quick process.
Example of a dog reunited
I picked up a lost dog a few months ago who wasn’t wearing a collar. The pup was running along the side of a country road, dragging a makeshift leash behind him. He was very friendly when I pulled over and immediately ran to me.
Consequently, I had him hop in my car and took him to a local vet. They scanned him for a microchip, and sure enough, he had one!
The receptionist contacted the microchip company and was able to get his owner’s phone number. As a result, Rocky, the dog, was reunited with his owners a few hours later!
Cons of microchips for dogs
So while microchips for dogs and cats do work when handled properly, they also have a few downsides. For instance:
- Small discomfort. When the microchip is inserted into the pet’s skin.
- Risk of migration. Every now and then the microchip travels away from the injection site, which makes it harder to locate and scan it.
- Potential health risks. It’s rare, but soft tissue tumors can develop at the injection site.
- Mistakes owners make. The microchip is useless if it’s not registered and updated with the owner’s contact information. Similarly, it also needs to be updated when pets change owners and when pets move with their owners.
- Not foolproof. Lost pets can’t take themselves to a vet or shelter to be scanned for their microchip, so someone needs to take them there.
- No GPS function. Microchips are passive transponders, meaning they don’t track a pet’s whereabouts.
- Several brands of microchips exist. They operate on one of three different frequencies here in the U.S., and not all vets and shelters have universal scanners that read all the different brands and frequencies.
Cost of microchips for dogs
The cost to get a microchip is twofold:
- First, there’s the fee the vet or shelter charges to implant the chip.
- Second, there is a registration fee with the microchip company. Sometimes this is a one-time fee and sometimes it’s annual.
The average cost of a microchip implantation here in the U.S. is between $40-70.
Sometimes vets offer a discount for placing the microchip when the pet is getting another procedure done, like sterilization. That was actually the case with my previous pups, Boxer mixes Missy & Buzz.
Their microchips were from a company called PetLink. Both were implanted for close to nothing when they had their respective neuter and spaying surgeries. That just happened to be the company my then-vet used for their microchips.
Next, there’s the registration cost with a microchip company.
There is typically a one-time fee. However, some companies also offer yearly memberships where you get access to additional benefits.
I listed seven different microchip companies below. Some charge a one-time registration fee, others charge an annual fee. I also found out about one company that doesn’t charge anything at all.
Examples of microchip companies
My pup Wally is microchipped with Home Again. They charge a one-time fee that lasts your pet’s lifetime. But if you continue a yearly membership, you will get extra benefits that include:
- Toll-free access to lost pet specialists
- Rapid lost pet alerts to participating shelters and vets
- Free medical emergency hotline staffed with ASPCA vets
- Pet travel assistance should a lost pet be discovered hundreds of miles away from home
According to Home Again, their microchips are “made of an inert, biocompatible substance, which means it won’t cause an allergic reaction or degenerate over time.” Now this sounds good to me!
Besides Home Again, there are a variety of other microchip companies here in the U.S.
Make sure to check closely with the company you end up choosing to make sure you fully understand all the fees and what’s included.
Annual ($29.95 first year, $19.95/year after) and Lifetime ($94.95) protection membership options. Additionally, they also offer pet insurance.
Lifetime enrollment for $19.50. No yearly fees.
Lifetime enrollment for a single pet is $19.95 with no annual fees. Multiple pets (up to 3) are $49.95. Membership can be upgraded to Premium for a one-time fee of $6.00 (provides ability to update account information online).
Yearly ($19.99) and lifetime registration options (between $45-151).
One-time lifetime registration fee of $19.95 or option to upgrade to the premium lifetime registration for an additional one-time fee of $19.95. No monthly or annual fees.
Like the name suggests, this company does not charge any registration or membership fees! “The world’s only Truly FREE 24/7/365 pet microchip registry and recovery service for ANY BRAND of microchip“.
Are microchips required for certain breeds in some areas of the U.S.?
There are a few countries who’ve made microchipping in pets mandatory such as the UK, but it’s generally not required in the U.S.
Microchipping is voluntary in the U.S. with the exception of specific dogs – or in some areas, breeds – who are legally considered “dangerous.” These dogs or breeds are legally required to be microchipped so that their owners can be identified and held liable in case of a bite or other dangerous behavior.
Check with your local authorities to learn which dogs are required to wear a microchip. Your vet is able to provide guidance as well.
Also, most international travel destinations require your dog to be microchipped with the 134.2 kHz frequency. If your pup has a different frequency microchip, he or she will need to be re-chipped with a microchip of that frequency before traveling abroad.
Benefits of microchips for cats
Cats are also candidates for microchipping, and maybe even more so than dogs! That’s because they usually don’t wear collars with an identifying ID tag and owner phone number like dogs do.
However, it actually IS a good idea for outdoor cats to wear a collar with an ID tag, ideally in addition to a microchip. Even if she loses her collar, she has another chance of being reunited with her owner should she end up in a shelter.
Additionally, indoor cats also benefit from a microchip. They can easily escape through a door that’s left ajar by mistake, or even through a window or patio screen that’s damaged.
Now we’d like to hear from you!
Now it’s your turn! Is your dog or cat microchipped?
If you have any questions, let us know in the comments!
Barbara Rivers writes regularly for That Mutt. She is certified in raw dog food nutrition from Dogs Naturally Magazine and the author of three ebooks about balanced raw dog food. She is a blogger at K9s Over Coffee.