Microchipping is not a brand new technology, but it certainly is a step up from the older methods of tattooing a purebred or simply having your dog wear a collar with tags or identification information engraved or written in the collar. The biggest problem with the old collar method is that collars are easy to slip and they can often come off if the dog gets them caught and pulls back. While a safety feature of the collar, this then leaves your dog unidentified and often considered a stray.
What Is A Microchip?
A microchip may seem like something out of a science fiction movie, however microchipping of livestock has been in place for many years in different countries. A microchip similar to a computer chip in that it is a small, electronic way of storing information. The microchips used in domestic and companion animals are extremely small, about the size of an uncooked grain of rice, and roughly about the same shape.
In reality the microchip doesn't actually store anything other than a unique number. This number is constantly in the chip, but is not actually being transmitted until a wand scans the area. It is a completely a non-harmful way to identify the dog. While the chip itself is a very basic transponder unit and made of metal, it is encased in a type of glass known as surgical glass. This glass protects the microchip from damage from the chemicals, moisture and compounds found in tissue, plus it also protects the dog from any interaction between the microchip parts and the dog's body.
The signal that the microchip emits is so faint that it can only be detected from a few inches away from the dog's skin surface. When a special wand is passed over the area, it picks up the number being transmitted by the microchip. The vet, shelter worker or vet technician then keys the information and start the process of getting the dog back home.
Various companies make microchips for pets and maintain their respective databases. While not all chips can be read by all company scanners, any scanner will show there is a chip present but that it cannot be read if it is of a non-compatible variety. Shelters or vets offices have a list of various other agencies with different types of scanners that are then used until the chip information can be found. There are only a handful of companies making these products so finding a scanner to read any chip is not a problem. Most of the newer chips can be read by a universal scanner, which has made this problem much less significant in recent years.
How Are They Implanted?
Implanting a microchip in any size or breed of dog is a very simple, non-surgical procedure. The vet or technician will simply use a prepared syringe with a larger bore needle and inject the microchip just under the skin either between the shoulder blades of the dog or along the back before mid-spine area. Most are implanted in the loose skin between the shoulder blades for ease of implanting. Since the microchip is not in the muscle or in the skin but in the layer between it is safe and secure without being able to become dislodged or damaged. The microchip does not move around in the body and there is no chance that it can somehow get into the bloodstream and end up in the brain, heart or lungs. Although there are urban legends of these types of things happening, there is no recorded truth to these claims. As there is no battery or power source, it never has to be removed, replaced or fixed as there is nothing within the chip that can go wrong.
There is typically no anesthesia used when implanting and the puppy or dog will often yelp in pain and there can be some slight bleeding at the injection site. Many owners choose to have this procedure done when the dog is being spayed or neutered and is already under general anesthesia for that surgical procedure. Clinics will, however, implant dogs at any time although they typically have to be over 12 weeks of age.
Vets and shelters will routinely scan dogs that are brought into the facility. In addition most companies provide a small tag that can be attached to the collar to indicate that the dog has been microchipped.
When owners originally have their pet microchipped there is a one time processing fee to enter all the information into the database. The beauty of the system is that anytime your phone number, address, or other relevant information changes you can contact the database managers from the information provided with your microchipping number, and simply update the necessary items. With some companies this whole process can now be done online, making it even quicker and easier for busy families.
If the dog is sold or given away, the new owners can also update the information to reflect their names, address and contact information. While not every vet clinic has a scanner, almost all of the public and privately funded rescues and shelters have a scanner or wand that they use to check all pets brought into their facility. This speeds up the shelter's ability to get lost dogs and cats back to their respective owners in a quick and stress free fashion. In addition some private breeders also have scanners and they will routinely check dogs coming in and out of their kennels to verify ownership information.
Of course the owners still have to be responsible in keeping information updated. If you don't and your dog is lost, the vet or shelter may be trying desperately to contact you only to get a "no longer in service" message on a phone that has been disconnected. Since this is a free service, be sure to keep all contact numbers, including cell phones, as up to date as possible.