How Do Pet Microchips Work?

If you've adopted a pet, 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?

Identifying cat with microchip device
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What are microchips?

Microchips are essentially an identification tag that your pet wears inside of his body at all times. According to Home Again, a popular microchipping service, microchips are implanted by a veterinarian during a minor procedure that your pet won't need anesthesia to undergo. 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 shot, and it generally takes no longer than a few seconds. Chips usually cost around $50 to implant and require an annual fee to keep your pet's information on file.

One common misconception about microchips is that they will be able to tell you where your pet is at all times, like a GPS tracker. The only way your pet's location will be known through the use of the microchip is if someone has found your pet and scanned him for a chip, like a veterinarian or an animal shelter employee. 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 track him as you would, say, an iPhone, using the microchip.

Microchip implant by cat
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How do microchips work?

Microchips rely on a thin, unobtrusive piece of bioglass to encapsulate smaller pieces of technology which retain information, like your pet's name, and your name and contact info, explains Petfinder. For this information to be delivered, a microchip must be scanned. This scanner uses a radio frequency to essentially turn the microchip on, which then delivers an identification code specific to your pet to the scanner. 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 — 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. 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.

Male veterinarian scanning Doberman's chip at animal hospital.
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Why you should microchip

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 a microchip, which is usually among the first things these facilities will do after intaking a lost animal. Additionally, because each pet is given their own unique identification code, there is no chance that someone would be able to mistake your pet for theirs once the microchip is read.