A veterinarian holding a dog while putting a chipping syringe into the dog

May Is Chip Your Pet Month: Here's What You Need to Know

It’s National Chip Your Pet Month, so let’s look at how a pet microchip works and why you should get your pet chipped today.

May is National Chip Your Pet Month, founded to raise awareness about the life-saving benefits of microchipping your pet. Veterinarians, pet service providers, and pet owners alike use this month to celebrate and share about the importance of chipping your pet. But what is microchipping, exactly? How does it work and how can it keep your pet safe? Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Microchipping for Pets?

Education is an important component of National Chip Your Pet Month. Let’s look at:

  • What a microchip is
  • How the microchip is implanted
  • How a microchip works to keep your pet safe
  • Microchipping misconceptions

What Is a Microchip?

A microchip is a tiny device, about the size of a grain of rice, that is marked with a unique identification number that is specific and unique to your dog or cat. The microchip itself is actually enclosed in a small cylinder of specialized glass that is designed to exist safely within your animal’s flesh. It’s biocompatible, meaning it’s non-toxic and won’t irritate your pet or cause an allergic reaction.

A microchip on the tip of someone's finger

Within the grain-sized glass capsule is the microchip itself, which uses radio frequency identification (RFID) to store your pet’s information. There is also a tuning capacitor, which receives power when the chip is scanned, and the antenna coil, which then submits the microchip’s information into the scanner using the power from the tuning capacitor.

How Is a Microchip Implanted?

Microchip implantation is simple and painless, much like getting a shot or vaccine. The tiny device is inserted underneath your pet’s skin, right between their shoulder blades. Microchipping is a simple procedure and relatively painless. It’s also completely safe for your pet and the procedure doesn’t require any anesthesia.

How Microchips Work to Keep Your Pet Safe

The number on the microchip is registered in a database. The database in which you enroll your pet’s number depends on the manufacturer of the microchip.

If your pet is lost and taken to an animal shelter, clinic, or hospital, veterinarians and other providers can use a scanner that will detect the small antenna in the microchip and read the number. The scanner will also show the manufacturer of the chip and then the person scanning will know which database to search. There is also a Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool operated by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), which is connected with most microchip manufacturers and their lists of registered animals.

Registration with your contact information is what gives your pet’s microchip number meaning and allows it to be connected with you as a pet parent. Without registration, your pet’s microchip is meaningless when scanned. It’s important that you keep your contact information up to date every year, in case there are changes to your address, phone number, or other information. If your pet is lost or stolen and the information in the database is not correct, the person who scans your pet’s microchip might not be able to find you and reunite you with your animal.

Common Misconceptions About Pet Microchips

Understanding what a microchip doesn’t do is almost as important as understanding what it does do. Many people think these chips are GPS or tracking devices, or somehow battery-powered or electronic. This is not the case. A pet microchip does not have any power source of its own, and it can’t be used to automatically track or identify the location of your pet. For the microchip to work, it has to be scanned by a reader, sometimes known as an interrogator.

It’s also important to assuage any fear around privacy protection with microchipping your pet. Some pet owners worry that having their pet microchipped will put their security at risk because they have to put private information, such as phone number and address, into the database when they register their pet’s unique number. Random people cannot access this database information, and you get to choose exactly what data you provide when you register. Microchipping your pet is not a privacy risk.

Another common misconception that National Chip Your Pet Month works to correct is that microchipping is a substitute for the use of a collar and ID tag. Because microchips have to be scanned to identify your pet, they do not substitute for a standard ID tag that can be read by a neighbor or any person without a scanner. If your pet can be reunited with you this way, it’s much more simple and likely faster. (But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t microchip your pet, even if they wear a tag; we’ll discuss this more below.)

5 Reasons Why You Should Microchip Your Pet

National Chip Your Pet Month is intended to raise awareness about this common and standard practice that greatly increases the chance of lost pets being reunited with their owners. In fact, most animal shelters will microchip a pet before it is adopted. However, if your pet hasn’t been microchipped yet, here are some reasons to do so:

  1. Your pet has a decent chance of becoming lost at some point in their lifetime
  2. Microchipping is safe and lasts for the entirety of your pet’s life
  3. Microchipping is a one-time, affordable expense
  4. Collars and ID tags can break or be removed
  5. Microchips are proven to be effective

1. Your Pet Has a Chance of Becoming Lost

American Humane reports that nearly 10 million pets are lost in the United States every year. Of the lost pets who are not microchipped, only 15 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats are reunited with their families. The risk of your cat or dog getting lost is very real, even if you are extremely careful (and even if you don’t let your indoor cat go outside). Even with a collar and ID tag, which can be lost or removed, pets often can’t find their way home and don’t make it back into their owners’ arms.

Of course, this outcome is a terrible experience for families, and microchipping makes it more likely that – should your pet accidentally get separated from you – they will be brought back home.

2. Microchipping Is Safe and Lasts a Lifetime

A veterinarian holding a cat while another person uses a microchip scanner on the cat

Getting your pet chipped is a safe investment that lasts for the lifetime of your pet. The microchips have been designed so they do not deteriorate within your pet’s body, so the hardware itself does not need to be replaced or maintained. The only thing that is required of you is to keep your information up to date on the registry, so the scanner reflects appropriate information if your pet becomes lost.

3. Microchipping Is Affordable

As we mentioned earlier, most pets are already microchipped before being adopted out. However, if your pet doesn’t already have one, the primary cost associated with microchipping is the one-time fee for implantation, usually completed at your veterinarian’s office. Some chip companies charge a fee for registering your pet’s ID number with the manufacturer, but you can also register it for free at freepetchipregistry.com. If you do have to pay for microchipping, it usually costs less than $100 – often closer to $50. Most pet parents feel this is a reasonable one-time cost for peace of mind and increased likelihood you’ll be reunited with your pet if they become lost.

4. ID Tags Are Not Infallible

While microchipping is not a substitute for keeping a well-fitted collar or harness with ID tags on your pet at all times, these tags are not a guarantee your pet will be returned. If your pet gets loose, their collar or harness might get lost or removed. Similarly, a metal ID tag can fall off or become damaged while your pet is away from home. The microchip is a failsafe because it can’t be removed, damaged, or otherwise tampered with. A microchip is legal proof that your pet belongs to you; so as long as you keep your registration information current, there is no dispute of ownership if your pet is found.

5. Studies Show That Microchips Are Effective in Reuniting Families

Part of the reason microchipping your pet has become standard practice is that it is proven to be effective in reuniting pet parents with their furry family members. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) did a study in 2007 and 2008 that examined nearly 8,000 microchipped animals who arrived at 53 different shelters. Nearly three quarters of the dogs and more than half of the cats of the sample group were returned to their owners. Microchipping works!

Celebrate Chip Your Pet Month by Ensuring Your Pet’s Safety

Now that you understand the mechanics of microchipping, hopefully, you see that microchipping your pet is a no-brainer and an important part of being a loving, responsible pet owner. Celebrate National Chip Your Pet Month by giving yourself peace of mind and ensuring you have the best chance of being reunited with your pet if they ever get lost. If you haven’t done so already, talk to your veterinarian today about getting your pet chipped.