Will Your Pet’s Microchip Bring Him Home?

Other than hanging identification tags on collars, I’ve always thought (and advised my clients) that microchipping our dogs and cats is the best way to ensure that we will be reunited should circumstances separate us. As it turns out, microchipping is not nearly so foolproof as I’ve believed- not because the chips are defective, but rather, because of human error.  Have a look at what I just read in the November 1st edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA):

“A limitation of the microchip registry system is than many pet owners do not register microchips in their names according to ‘Characterization of animals with microchips entering animal shelters’ (see JAVMA, July 15, 2009).  In that study, shelters contacted microchip registries regarding 1,943 animals but found registrations for only 58.1 percent.  The registries were unable to find any information on the owner or on the person who implanted the microchip for 9.8 percent of the animals. Among other recommendations, the study’s authors suggested that veterinarians and shelter personnel should not only register pet microchips at the time of implantation, but also remind the pets’ owners to update information in the registry.

Jason Merrihew, American Animal Hospital Association spokesman said, educating pet owners is a key step to improve microchipping as a form of pet identification. ‘Every time that they change their address or change phone numbers, then they need to update that microchip information,’ Merrihew said.”

So what does all this mean? Here’s the bottom line in terms of achieving the intended purpose of your pet’s identification microchip: At the time your dog or cat is microchipped, be sure to complete the registration materials and have them processed with the appropriate microchip registry.  Be sure your veterinarian (or whoever it is that implants the microchip) does the same.  Additionally, update that registry whenever your contact data (telephone number, address) changes.  I haven’t moved or changed my phone number (or my name!) in well over a decade, so my pets and I are in good shape.  How about you and yours? Will your lost dog or cat be able to find you again?  If you know your contact information is not current, or you are unsure, pick up the phone or go online today.  It could make all the difference.

Wishing you and your four-legged family members good health,

Dr. Nancy Kay
Specialist, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot is available at Amazon.com, local bookstores, or your favorite online book seller.

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16 Comments on “Will Your Pet’s Microchip Bring Him Home?

  1. Adding to the problem of multiple types of chip to be scanned, evidence of the failure of some veterinarians to scan when the person who had adopted the dog from a rescue decided to euthanize him. The rescue who would have reclaimed the dog, found out about it and is trying to get some laws enacted requiring any vet or shelter to scan all animals to return them to the person or organization that had the chip implanted before euthanizing. I feel this is a very important issue, as someone has taken the time and expense; to take measures to save and protect a living being. Dogs and cats are not to be thrown away for expediency if you have the integrity–and the United States has the resources to take this simple step. Third world countries may not, but we are a “developed and humane society”, true? Have a heart and ask for this legislation.

  2. I had a different kind of experience with the microchip–one of my dogs is a rescue. I had her microchipped immediately. When she was picked up by animal control because she jumped over the fence when I wasn’t home, they scanned her and found an old chip but not the one I had implanted. So they called a bad number and if I hadn’t called them to see if she was there, I wouldn’t have found out. We were happily reunited, so the story ended well, but now I know that there is more than one type of scanner and not all scanners pick up all microchips.

  3. Another strong suggestion I have is to make sure the pets name is on the tag on the collar. I have found numerous times when catching a stray dog that if I can get close enough to read the name, when I say the dogs name it visibly relaxes and I am better able to handle it, get it safely confined and back to it’s human. If it can recognize it’s name being said, it feels more confident about you.

    Some of my customers express concern that if they put the name on the tag/collar, someone might be more inclined to steal the dog. If the dog is going to get stolen, knowing it’s name is going to make no difference to the villian.

    Put as many phone numbers on the tag as possible, and even put “microchip” on it so others may know to check for one. My sister has even put her drivers license number on her dogs tag when she was frequently traveling from around western states, hoping that one way or another she could get reunited with her loved dog if they got separated.

  4. I adopted one of my dogs during an animal welfare fundraiser from an out-of-state rescue group. The dog was four-months-old and already microchipped. I didn’t know that she had been adopted out once before and returned to the rescue until I got her vet records. This made it very difficult to get the microchip registry updated with the correct information as my dog was still registered under her former owner. When I contacted the rescue group, they updated the info. but registered her in their name! I was told by the registry that the only one who could change that was the rescue group even though I had proof of ownership (adoption papers from said rescue group) It was finally corrected but it took a lot of determination on my part to see that it was done. The process needs improvement.

  5. Both our labs had/have microchips. We travel extensively and thought it would be good insurance, should they ever wander. I also heard of two labs being returned from a research lab because of their chips! We kept the information updated when we moved, and we would ask the vet to check that the chips had not migrated over the years. Unfortunately, we have moved to a place where people will not take a lost dog to the local kill shelter so the likelyhood of the microchips ever being read are slim. Perhaps a tattoo would be a better idea, but I’ve seen faded ones, and most people do not know what to do with the information :-(

  6. @Susan
    Well, I think — and someone more knowledgeable, please chime in — you’d have to go somewhere with a scanner, a shelter or vet’s office, and have the dog scanned. If the dog is chipped, there is also a new universal registry online. See: http://petmicrochiplookup.org/

  7. Great reminder that we have to check the information. I have never called to check that the system works. And I think the microchip registration places could do a better job of sending registration confirmations.

    i also know for sure that some shelters do not carefully scan for chips. I’ve had many shelter dogs come to my house when temporarily being fostered and have found that they are microchipped but no-one at the shelter checked carefully. So if you do loose your dog you’ll have to rely on more than just the microchip. A good reference source for finding a lost pet is at http://www.missingpetpartnership.org/

    Sophia Yin, DVM

  8. Dear Dr. Kay – where are you located? Please advise – thank you.

  9. I actually just renewed Magic’s microchip registration and updated info this week. The several articles I’ve written on the subject support the information in your blog. However, at least one (HomeAgain) notes that even if allowed to lapse, they never remove the information in the database. So as long as it stays current, there’s a “possibility” of the pet being reunited.

    Susan, have the dog scanned at your local veterinary hospital, and find out about the chip. You can then contact the “owner” of registeration. If the info is old, you can still have him re-chipped with your own information.

    Carolyn, there is now a “universal scanner” available from Shering (HomeAgain). The best option is to talk to the folks in the location where you’ll be staying, to see what technology they use, and microchip accordingly.

  10. In Canada, all purebred dogs are required to be individually identified BEFORE leaving the breeder’s premises. For many years we had a choice between tatto or noseprint.

    Once the microchips became popular, the noseprint was dropped, (thank god), and the choices remained Tattoo or chip.
    Many of us have stuck to the tattoo, (using individual combinations issued by the Canadian Kennel CLub). A GOOD tattoo laasts as long as the dog…just ask those folks who are regretting getting a personal tattoo…nad ar wanting removal!!
    I dislike the chip for all ther easons mentioned, but am at a loss to suggestion a tattoo ID for cross bred dogs. Certainly would have to be universally recognized, which is the problem with the chips now.

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  12. Susan,

    You can have the pet scanned for a microchip at your local veterinarian or animal shelter/rescue. The first three digits are indicative of the registry name, so you would then contact them and go through their process of having the chip changed to your information.

  13. Hi Carolyn,

    What an interesting life it sounds like you lead and so wonderful that your dog gets to travel with you (is her name Maggie, by chance?). There are several different companies that register microchips (most of us in the veterinary profession truly wish there was just one so that only one scanner ad increased ease of tracking a microchip number on a lost dog to the appropriate registry). Most of the facilities where strays might end up hopefully have more than one scanner so that they can pick up the microchip regardless of manufacturer. Also, people who are well trained know to scan the entire dog, just in case the microchip happened to migrate from the site it was implanted (between the shoulder blades). You are correct, Carolyn, a couple of universal registries have recently appeared that carry the contact data from numerous microchip companies. This will hopefully increase the number of microchipped lost pets reunited with their humans.

    Best wishes,

    Dr. Nancy Kay

  14. Hi Susan,

    Great question. I encourage you to take your dog to your veterinarian or local shelter and have him scanned for a microchip. Should one be found, you will need to take the necessary steps to change the contact data with the appropriate microchip registry.

    Good luck and best wishes,

    Dr. Nancy Kay

  15. Good reminder to keep the data current!

    I normally enjoy and adopt new technologies … but I haven’t had my dog micro-chipped for 2 reasons. The first is that we live 9-10 mos./yr. in a country without this technology so it would do no good if she were lost here and by some miracle turned in (actually such a miracle happened once since we adopted her as a stray turned into a vet’s office).

    For the several weeks each year that we are in the US, I’ve considered getting her microchipped except … it is my understanding that there are different companies and consequently compatible scanners are necessary depending on the brand of chip implanted. So unless your pet is scanned with a compatible scanner, the microchip would be missed. Does anyone know if this is still the case? I understand a universal registry has been developed and I wonder if there is now a universal scanner.

  16. How do recommend finding out if an adult dog you have been gifted with is chipped, and then going about changing the registration? I have a dog who, strong possibility, has a chip, came to me at age 4 when he was abandoned. His arrival was not from a shelter or rescue group so no one checked for a chip then. I’d like to be sure he comes home to me if he decides to explore. What’s my next step?