Microchipping Your Dog

By Courtney Barnes, BSc, DVM; Tammy Hunter, DVM; Ernest Ward, DVM

What is a microchip?

Today, microchip technology is found everywhere, from computers and cell phones, to implants in wild animals for tracking 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 large grain of rice, and are passive, which means that they passively store a unique identification number and do not actively transmit any information.

The microchip implanted in your dog has no battery and no internal power source; it sits inertly in the dog until it is read by a microchip scanner.

How is the microchip put into my dog?

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 your dog is positioned for the injection. For dogs, the standard site for microchip placement is under the skin between the shoulder blades. For correct placement, your dog should be either standing or lying on their stomach. Some of 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 under the skin. After insertion, the dog is scanned to ensure 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 insert the chip?

It hurts about as much as having blood drawn. The chips are usually inserted without incident in awake animals, even in the tiniest puppies. Although the needle is large, it is sharp, so most animals do not even flinch when the chip is inserted.

Some clients choose to have the microchip implanted when their dog is spayed or neutered so the dog can be anesthetized for the injection, but, this is not necessary; the microchip can be implanted any time that is convenient.

My dog always wears a collar with identification tags. Isn't this enough?

If your dog gets lost or picked up by animal control, the more types of identification that he has, the better. Although collars are a very visible form of identification, they can accidentally fall off or be intentionally removed. As tags get old and worn, the information on the tag may become unreadable. This means that your dog’s collar is not a permanent form of identification.

My dog has a tattoo. Does he need a microchip?

Unfortunately, tattoos can be very difficult to read. They are commonly placed in the flank area, where they can become obscured by hair. Even when they are in the ears, they can become faded over time, and the numbers and letters can become unreadable. They can also be readily altered. Even when they are readable, the information about the pet and its owner can be difficult to obtain since there are no common databases for this information.

"Microchips cannot be misread and the identification number is tamper-proof."

Microchips 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 dog is 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 in the database, the whole procedure will be pointless, as the microchip number will not be associated with anyone.

If you move or change your contact information, be sure to update the information with the registration agency. If your pet is lost and recovered, this information is necessary to reunite you with your pet.

How will the microchip help my dog get home?

Humane societies and animal shelters have universal microchip readers and scan all animals that come into their care. If a lost or stray dog is brought to a veterinary clinic, the staff use their reader to check for a microchip. Since the occasional microchip may move out of position, the microchip reader is passed over the entire body of the dog to ensure that the chip is detected, if present.

The microchip reader detects the electronic code embedded in the chip and displays 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.

To help you keep your dog as safe as possible, make sure that he has a microchip and an ID tag, and that you have a clear photograph of your dog that shows any unique markings. If your dog does get lost, you should distribute flyers that include your dog’s photograph and contact information, contact your local humane societies or animal shelters, alert your veterinarian, and advertise your lost dog on social media.

Are there any other benefits to microchipping?

Another important reason to microchip your dog is for international travel.  If you plan to travel or move to a different country with your dog, it is important to check the requirements. Your veterinarian will have to complete export paperwork and many countries require pets to be microchipped or they will not be allowed in. Rabies vaccination is also required for travel, and if the rabies certificate does not contain the microchip number, it may not be considered valid.

Additionally, having a microchip allows for the option of electronic pet doors with microchip sensors. These doors can be installed to let pets in and out, as well as into specific feeding areas - an option that is particularly helpful if you have multiple dogs that are on different diets.

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