How Does a Dog Microchip Work?

Find out the details and why you should consider getting one.

How does a dog microchip work?

Years ago I had two very active and curious dogs. Despite my best efforts to keep them in the yard, they would inevitably find a way out or create an escape path by digging. They would run the streets of the neighborhood until we found them — but luckily we lived in a small cul-de-sac, and everyone knew them.

I did wonder what would happen if they went beyond the neighborhood on one of their escapades. How would I find them? They each had a collar and tag, but I was worried this wasn’t enough. The next trip to the veterinarian addressed these concerns, and I had both dogs implanted with microchips.

A microchip is a tiny device about the size of a grain of rice. It is made of glass designed for placement in living tissue and houses a small computer chip.

The microchip is implanted between the dog’s shoulder blades with a needle. This computer chip stores your contact information and can be read by a scanner. Most shelters and veterinarian offices have scanners, and they will routinely scan any animal found or brought in to try to find its owner.

Do I Need a Microchip?

My neighbor’s dog goes outside only for potty breaks, so the neighbor asked why she would need one. The answer is, any animal is capable of venturing too far out of curiosity, chasing another animal or being stolen. It takes just a second for this to happen, and soon you will be scrambling to drive the streets, call neighbors and post fliers.

These methods can help recover a lost pet, but what happens if the person who finds your dog hasn’t seen your flier? Most people will bring the dog to the nearest shelter or vet’s office in the hopes that you can be found.

Collars can slip off or be removed (which one of my dogs was excellent at), and this leaves no way of identifying the dog as yours. If the dog had a microchip that could be scanned, the vet or shelter will find you much faster.

If you live in England, you are required to microchip your dog starting in 2016 or face fines.

Will It Harm My Dog?

The process of installing the microchip is similar to your dog getting a shot. The needle is a little bigger, but the pain is minimal and the process is usually quick. Anesthesia is not needed, and it can be done at your vet’s office. There is a possibility that more than one attempt may be needed.

I recently took my newly adopted pet to be microchipped, and the first attempt was unsuccessful. The second try was a success and was fast, although he wasn’t pleased! This is probably the worst that can happen, and it was still so quick and painless that he was fine immediately after it was done.

Check out this quick video; then we’ll discuss microchip benefits:

Microchip Benefits

  • Fast and easy implant done with a needle in your vet’s office.
  • No anesthesia needed.
  • Minimal pain, similar to a shot.
  • Helps locate owners of lost pets, avoids your pet getting adopted or euthanized.
  • Affordable cost that ranges between $25 to $55.
  • Most implants last an average of 25 years and usually will not need replacing or updating.
  • Peace of mind and closure. Animals that are found, even if expired, are still scanned for a microchip so their owner can be notified.
  • People and professionals with scanners are trained to scan the entire body in case the microchip has migrated elsewhere. This is uncommon, and the chip usually doesn’t migrate far from the shoulder area, but they check all over to be sure.
  • Universally used as a method of identification in multiple countries and can be a benefit to those who travel with their animals.
  • Natural disasters, such as hurricanes or tornadoes, can cause a lot of animals to be lost unexpectedly. Having a microchip can help rescue professionals find you faster instead of placing your dog in a shelter or foster care.

What Microchips Don’t Do

  • They are not tracking devices — there is no GPS or locator.
  • They are useful only if scanned.
  • Not all places will have scanners or universal scanners.

Do-It-Yourself Kits

I don’t recommend using home kits for microchip implantation. The contents can be ineffective, or you could have difficulty implanting the device yourself. This can make the process difficult for you and painful for your pet. Even the vet tech I went to had to try twice, and she has years of experience.

The vet scans the microchip after implementation to ensure it works. And the best part about having a professional implant the device: If something goes wrong, you know who to turn to for assistance. Most home kits run about the same cost as having a professional perform the implantation. You won’t save any money, and you’ll have to deal with customer service for the product (if even available) if something goes wrong.

While the benefits certainly outweigh the shortcomings, there are other steps you can take to help ensure your dog is returned to you if lost. Make sure your dog always has a collar and tag. Metal tags work better than plastic tags; they don’t chip, break, the information doesn’t wear off as easily and they usually last longer. Don’t allow your pet to roam and always use responsible boarders or sitters if your pet can’t be with you.

If you decide to microchip your pet, ask to see and verify the information about you that is put into the computer or written down to send to the microchip company. Make sure everything is correct and list as many phone numbers as possible. Keep your copy of this paperwork with your vaccination records and current photos of your dog for easy retrieval. These details will also come in handy if you choose to use a recovery service such as a dog amber alert.

We hope your pet never gets lost, but consider getting your dog a microchip for an added chance at a happy ending. We love happy endings.

And here’s something exciting to know: You can get reimbursed for the cost of microchipping under Embrace Pet Insurance’s Wellness Rewards. Curious about the cost of pet health insurance? It’s more affordable than you probably think. Get your FREE, no-hassle quote here (affiliate link).

Photos: rennes.i (top), NatalieMaynor/Flickr

Kristine Lacoste

View posts by Kristine Lacoste
Kristine Lacoste, editor in chief of Petful, is an author, poet and pet lover from Louisiana. She is the author of an award-nominated book, One Unforgettable Journey, and was host of a weekly pet news segment on the National K-9 Academy Radio Show. She was the New Orleans coordinator for Dogs on Deployment, a nonprofit that helps military members and their pets, for 3 years. She is also employed as chief operating officer for a large mental health practice in Louisiana. Kristine has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Business Administration degree.

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