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Microchipping: Increasing Your Pet's Chances of a Happy Ending

Everyone loves happy endings. We sit on the edge of our seats hoping the good guys triumph, feeling let down if the wicked witch wins. We know there will be times in our lives when we are holding our breath praying for the happy ending.

If you share your life with animals like we do, one of the heart-stopping, gut-wrenching moments occurs when your pet seems to have vanished in thin air. It can happen in the blink of an eye; an open door, a gate not latched tight, or a loud noise. They bolt like a rocket, turn a corner or go behind a building, disappearing from sight. It truly doesn’t matter why they are gone because all we can focus on is finding them safe and having them home with us. Those of us who have been there know the seconds, hours, or days our pet is missing are among the most heart-sick times we experience.

Good news – here is how to help increase your chances of a happy ending.

Microchipped pets and those wearing an ID have a far greater chance of being reunited .

  • Always have a collar with a current phone number on your pet.

Keep in mind collars need to fit properly. They need to be snug so you can only fit two fingers under them. Too loose collars can pull off, be scratched off, or snag on something. Metal identification that is permanently attached to their collar is safer for your pet than tags that dangle. Permanently attached IDs don’t get caught in things or torn off as easily.

  • Microchips provide added security and peace of mind.

Microchips are about the size of a grain of rice. They are inserted under the pet’s skin by injection. The needle used is a bit larger than the one used to give your pet vaccinations. Microchips don’t have a battery or energy source so are capable of lasting throughout your pet’s lifetime. A scanner is passed over the pet to locate and read the chip. Microchips emit a radio frequency when activated by the microchip scanner. Each chip has a unique number or combination of numbers and letters that come up on the scanner. That unique number is registered to you and your pet so you can be reunited when the pet’s microchip has been scanned.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) states that a study of over 7,700 stray animals at animal shelters showed dogs with microchips were reunited with owners 52.2% of the time compared to 21.9% of the time for dogs without microchips. The statistics on cats are even more compelling. Cats were returned 38.5% of the time if they had microchips compared to 1.8% of the time without chips. (Lord et al., JAVMA, July 15, 2009)

Not all microchips can be read by the same scanner, and not all companies keep a good database of who that chip was sold to, so just using any microchip doesn’t give you the best chance of finding your pet. This is where things get tricky; you need to take the initiative so your pet is protected.

So what should I do? Glad you asked!

You have to make sure:

1. The chip is from one of the most reputable companies (see below).

2. The company has a detailed database that will share information if needed.

3. Just as important as which microchip company you choose, make sure to keep your contact information current.

YOU must ensure the microchip company has your name and contact information registered with your pet’s chip number and keep the information up to date. That means when you change your phone number or move, you need to call the microchip company and your vet office to give them the best contact information. The AVMA also states that animals with microchips that are not able to be returned to owners is predominantly due to incorrect owner information in the microchip company database.

The top five microchip companies are Home Again, Avid, 24 Petwatch, PetLink/Datmars, and AKC. Each of these companies have a unique prefix for their microchips. When a pet is scanned by vet clinic staff, animal control, or shelter staff, they can find which company has that prefix. The microchip company is given the chip number, then looks up owner contact information on file so you can be reached.

Most other microchip companies do not have a unique prefix. Many (over 100 companies worldwide) share the same 900 prefix, which makes finding your contact information an arduous process at best. Make sure you read the fine print and ask questions; some of these companies say they don't give out information about their chips.

Questions to Ask Before Microchipping

Microchipping can be done through your vet, at a local microchip event, through an organization such as CACC, or directly through the microchip company. When purchasing a microchip, here are several questions you need to ask.

  • What company makes the microchip?

  • Do they have a unique prefix for the microchip number so vet clinics and animal control know who to call to get contact information once the chip is read by a scanner?

  • Is that same company one of the most common one used by vets, animal control, and rescue groups in your area?

  • Is the chip able to be read with a universal scanner?

  • Does the company keep a record of each chip number and what organization or individual has been sold that chip? Ex. Do they know that chip was sold to ABC Vet Clinic? This will be important if you can’t be reached or if your information is outdated.

  • Will the company share your contact information?

  • Who is responsible for registering your and your pet’s information with the microchip company? This is super important - the company Must have your contact number to be able to locate you. You need to be in the database. Even if your vet clinic handles the initial registration, call the microchip company and ensure that they have received your information. Breeders, shelters, rescues, and breeders often microchip animals before they are placed in new homes, so again it is up to you to ensure the microchip company has your contact information.

  • Keep your pet's microchip number in a safe location and also have your vet clinic staff include the number in their records.

  • If your pet is lost, what does the company do to help locate your pet?

  • Is there a yearly fee associated with their database?

  • What happens if you don’t pay a yearly fee?

It is recommended that your pet have several hours of inactivity once the microchip is implanted. The inactivity helps the chip to 'cement' in place so it doesn’t migrate under your pet’s skin. Make sure your pet is scanned after the chip is injected. This ensures the chip can be found, read, and is working correctly. Every time you take your pet to a vet clinic ask them to scan for the microchip. Checking at least once a year is recommended by most microchip companies and veterinarians.

Common Misconceptions about Microchips

GPS able to locate your pet

The microchip inserted by vets, breeders, rescues, and shelters is NOT a GPS; it can’t determine the location of your pet. There are Wearable GPS systems capable of tracking your pet, but these are different from microchips.

Anesthesia Required

No anesthetic is required to insert a microchip. Chips are inserted by injection under the skin.

My pet is microchipped; it doesn't need a collar with identification.

Wrong; a microchip should be thought of as backup ID, not the first line of defense.

My puppy or kitten is too young for a microchip.

If your pup or kitten is old enough to be away from its mother, it can be microchipped.


There have been few complications reported with microchips.

Microchip Failure or Migration

Typically, chips are inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades. They have been found further up on the neck or along the back, down the shoulders, etc. Having your vet staff routinely check for the microchip will ensure it’s able to be located and working. If a chip can’t be located contact the company to report the problem and ask them how to proceed.

Medical Complications

A very small percentage of animals have had medical complications due to microchips. Talk to your veterinarian concerning any medical risks.

Additional Help

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) has an internet-based application linked to the registries of most microchip manufacturers that allow a search of any number made by these companies. Once the chip number is entered, the application will generate the manufacturer information so you can contact them to update your information in their database or to help you locate the owner of a stray animal. Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Tool

In addition to these tips to help your pet find their way back to you, we also recommend starting your lost pet search here:

1. Post your lost pet picture and details on the Lost Dogs of IL or Lost Cats of IL Facebook page and ask your friends/community members to share the post. This is a HUGE community of people connecting lost pets with families who are looking for their fur baby.

2. Print the post as a flyer and share to local rescues, vet clinics, and any other business with a storefront who is willing to share.

3. Visit your local pet rescues and CACC every couple days to inquire about your lost pet in case they have been brought in.

Important Take-Aways

  • Think of microchips as a great back up to the identification that your best friends wear every day.

  • A microchip from HomeAgain, Avid, 24 Petwatch, PetLink, or AKC will help ensure your pet returns safely home since each of these companies’ microchips begin with a unique prefix.

  • Make sure you have the microchip scanned at least once a year to ensure it can be located and read.

  • Keep your contact information current in the microchip company’s database, ensuring you can be called if the unthinkable happens and your pet is lost.

Following these tips will increase your chances for a Happy Ending!.!



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