What Are Microchips And Why Does My Dog Need One?
Any veterinarian will tell you that one of the most heartbreaking things they witness in their profession is lost pets, which is why they are such forceful advocates for microchipping. You’ve already turned to the internet for answers on this process for your loyal dog, so you’re undoubtedly a conscientious pet owner. At GeniusVets, we believe that pet care information should come from veterinarians and not from Dr. Google, as many well-meaning but ill-informed pet parents can spread misinformation. That’s why we’ve taken frequently asked questions on dog microchipping, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians across the U.S., and compiled their replies to get you useful information that you can trust.
While we've sourced all of the dog microchipping information and recommendations below directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted vet near you using the GeniusVets Directory.
A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice—it fits inside a syringe, and your veterinarian injects it in the subcutaneous space, which is between the shoulder blades at the back of the neck. That process is just like when they give a vaccine to a dog, but instead, they put the microchip in. The microchip stays there, and it has a unique number, almost like a social security number for a person. Whenever anyone wants to recall that number, they use a microchip scanner to scan over across that area. The microchip number comes up—then they know that it is uniquely the number that belongs to that particular dog. And then, from there, they’d move forward with the recovery process and hopefully reunite a lost dog with their owner. Can microchips be used to track my dog?
There is currently no tracking mechanism, as microchips are not like global positioning systems (GPS). The person reading the chip can't say, for example, that the dog is at the corner of Main and Mead Street, but they will know once they have the dog that if they scan it, they can find out who the owner is.
If someone finds your dog and they bring it to a shelter, a humane society, or a veterinary clinic, what will happen is that the dog will be scanned, and that unique number will come up on that scanner. Once that number comes up, it’s put into a database in a computer and all your information (as long as it's up to date) that you put in when you registered that microchip information on your dog will come up. That information will be used to contact you directly either by phone number, email, and sometimes even letters if they weren’t able to reach you in other ways.
Anybody who has a scanner—most animal agencies (animal control, adoption agencies, and veterinary clinics) have microchip scanners. Most of those scanners are universal, which means they can pick up chips from just about any manufacturer—the microchip doesn’t have to be made by the same company to be able to be scanned.
If you lost a dog, you would call the microchipping company you used, tell them you've lost the dog and what area the dog was lost. They send information out to veterinarians, pet stores, and other agencies in that area with a picture of your dog (if you've uploaded it) that says this dog is missing and how to contact you. If, on the other hand, you're the person that found the dog, you would find a place to scan the dog, call the company, and give them a description of the dog that you found and the microchip number. They would then contact the owner to let them know that someone has found the dog and then give them their contact information.
The biggest reason veterinarians recommend that your dog gets microchipped is it's the one fail-safe way to identify them, and reuniting dogs with their owners is one of the best parts of the profession. Accidents happen, doors and gates get left open by workmen and kids, and dogs can get out and get lost. Unfortunately, there are also some ominous situations that microchipping can ideally prevent. Tattoos can be altered; a name tag or a collar can easily be taken off, cut off, or damaged to the point where it's beyond recognition. If someone maliciously took your dog, there is no way for the person who stole your dog to know that the microchip is there nor how to get it out, and it's there for the life of the pet.
That is pretty common. Your veterinarian helps you register the dog’s microchip with the microchip company, so you can call them to access the records and remind you of the number. Or you can contact the microchip company directly if you have that information. If you’ve just adopted a dog, you can easily bring them in to see a veterinarian or a veterinary technician, and they can scan the dog. They’ll get that official number on your pet and give that to you, and then you should keep that number in a safe place.
Again, the dog collar can come off, the tag can come off, and people can remove these items if they have your pet. It’s also excellent for identification if you're going to be traveling, especially internationally. If you are an international traveler and want to take your pet with you, you will need that microchip to identify your pet. That is required on health certificates, but it's also an official guarantee that this is your pet.
No, although there are tiny GPS trackers that you can put on a collar that have GPS capability—again, it’s just a matter of keeping that collar on your dog. The microchip is the most foolproof way to track your pet.
It is like an injection. We use a needle to inject that microchip device into your animal, so it’s perhaps slightly more painful than an actual vaccine, but pets recover quickly, and then it's done. If you are concerned about pain, we can do a local injection for that site, or we typically recommend microchipping at the time of their spay and the neuter, so they don't feel it at all because they're already under anesthesia.
The AVMA is also an excellent resource for pet microchipping. If you have any further questions about how to keep your pets safe through microchipping or you want to get your loyal dog in for an appointment, please reach out to your vet. Don’t have one? We can help you find a local veterinarian!