How Do Pet Microchips Work?

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If you've adopted a pet from a local shelter, chances are she's already been equipped with a microchip. Used to make pets' owners easier to locate on the unfortunate chance that their pet has run away or been lost, microchips have successfully reunited many missing pets with their people, and have become almost as routine as vaccinations and spaying and neutering. While most pets have them, many people don't really know exactly how they work. So, what are microchips, why are they important, and how do they reunite pets with pet owners?

Microchipping is almost as routine as vaccinations and spaying and neutering.
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What are microchips?

Microchips are essentially an ID tag that your pet wears inside of his body at all times. While your pet should still have a collar tag, especially when you take him out of the home, the microchip stays with your pet even if the pet's collar is lost.

According to HomeAgain, one of the popular microchip companies, microchips are implanted by a veterinarian during a minor procedure at the veterinary office. Your pet won't need anesthesia to get the microchip. Microchips are incredibly small, often described as about the size of a grain of rice, and rests under the surface of your pet's skin in between the shoulder blades. Many people compare the microchipping process to giving a pet a vaccination shot, and it generally takes no longer than a few seconds. Chips usually cost around $50 for implantation and require an annual fee to keep your pet's information on file.

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One common misconception about microchips is that they will be able to tell you where your pet is at all times, like a GPS device. The only way your pet's location will be known through the use of the microchip is if someone, like a veterinarian or an animal shelter employee, has found your pet and scanned him for a chip. Of course, they would then need to contact you to let you know that your dog or cat is in their care, which does help locate pet owners. But if your pet goes missing you won't be able to use the microchip as a tracking device.

The American Animal Hospital Association, or AAHA, offers a service called Pet Microchip Lookup, in which you can enter in a microchip number ID and the microchip lookup tool will provide the registries where the microchip is registered. The AAHA tool doesn't return pet owner information contained in the registries' databases, but will instead identify which registries should be contacted when a lost pet is scanned and a microchip number is identified.

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If your pet goes missing you won’t be able to use the microchip as a tracking device.
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How do microchips work?

Microchips rely on a thin, unobtrusive piece of bioglass to encapsulate smaller pieces of technology that retain information, like your pet's name, and your name and contact information. For this information to be delivered, a microchip must be scanned.

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This microchip scanner uses a radio frequency to essentially turn the microchip on, which then delivers a radio frequency identification number or RFID specific to your pet to the scanner. Microchips with the radio frequency 125 kHz are popular in the United States, although the global standard is 134.2 kHz chips and these were introduced in 2004. If you're worried that your pet's microchip may run out of power, or could harm your pet through ongoing use, there's no need to worry — microchips are actually dormant unless they become scanned, as they have no internal power source.

In order for your pet's information to be read during a microchip scan, however, you will need to register his information with the microchip registry. Otherwise, a scan may identify that your pet is chipped, but with no contact information attached to the chip there really is no way for you to be reached this way. The same goes for outdated information as well, so if your pet's registry is linked to an old phone number or email address that's no longer in use, you should take the time to update this information so that whoever finds your pet will be sure to reach you as soon as possible.

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Why you should microchip

Keep your contact info in the microchip updated.
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Microchipping your pet and keeping her information up to date is one of the best ways to ensure that the two of you are eventually reunited should she ever become lost or missing. With the exception of very few, all veterinary clinics and animal shelters are equipped with scanners to scan for an ID number, which is usually among the first things these facilities will do after intaking a lost pet. Additionally, because each pet is given his own unique identification code, there is no chance that someone would be able to mistake your pet for theirs once the microchip is read.

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