It is a sad fact that hundreds of dogs go missing every year and are found, rather bedraggled but perfectly healthy, handed into the local animal shelter which then searches desperately for the animal’s owner to no avail. In some cases the dogs are even euthanized. Many of these fine canines had been equipped with dog identification tags or collars but with so much time astray from their owners such collars had often slipped off or, agonizingly, the writing had become illegible. In a recent study involving over 7,700 stray pets, the number of non-microchipped dogs that were safely returned to their owners was just under 22%.
Very few dog owners would wish that their chances of finding their beloved lost pet were as low as one in five. As such, the solution that many have turned to is to have a microchip injected into their scampering young member of the family in order to raise these meager odds.
For an average one time cost of $45 at the majority of local veterinary practices, a microchip can be injected into the dog. It is a small glass cylinder about the size of a grain of rice that contains a radio transmitter and a minute electronic device containing the animal’s ID number. This is done in exactly the same manner as any usual injection procedure, although, in order to accommodate the microchip, it requires a slightly larger needle. The chip will last for over 25 years, which is well beyond the lifespan of all but the most exceptional hounds.
At this stage it is important to note that this is not a tracking microchip that can be used to pinpoint a dog’s location. The idea behind it is that when a dog is handed into an animal shelter, they can scan the dog for the microchip. This will then give them the animal identification number in order to search the database so as to contact the owner. The same study of 7,700 stray pets revealed that dogs with implanted microchips have a 51.2% chance of being reunited with their owners, a near 30% increase over those without.
Based on this information alone, most people would be convinced that a microchip for their pet is a good idea. However, there are a few warnings of which to take heed. In the past there were three microchip frequencies commonly used in the U.S. that responded to scanners on the fame frequency. These were 125 kilohertz (kHz), 128 kHz, and 134.2 kHz. Until recently, these frequencies were mutually exclusive. For example a microchip that responds to a 125 kHz scanner would not respond to a 134.2 kHz scanner. There were some very sad cases of dogs unable to be returned to their owners, despite having a microchip, because it did not respond to the scanner’s frequency.
In order to alleviate this problem, universal scanners have been introduced. They are used by most shelters in the country, detecting microchips resonating at any of the above frequencies. In those unfortunate cases where animals are still scanned with the wrong frequency, it is always recommended that the dog’s identification tags are also maintained and kept up to date. An especially vigilant owner could always check the frequencies that local rescue shelters use to identify microchipped dogs. For reference, the international frequency for those looking to take their dogs abroad is 134.2 kHz.
The more worrying concerns are the admittedly rare medical complications that a microchip implant can cause. In 2009 there was the case of a Chihuahua hemorrhaging to death in California due to mystery bleeding put down to the microchip implant. There have also been complications when the chips have been implanted into the wrong area of the animal — something highly unlikely with a qualified veterinarian — or when the chip has migrated within the animal’s body. These have usually been harmless but can sometimes cause infections or abscesses. Finally, there have been reported cases of tumors developing in and around the area in which the implant was made, though this in itself does not necessarily mean it was due to the implant itself.
The latter part of this information is not designed to worry owners, it is merely a statement of fact. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, “Considering how a large number of pets have been implanted with microchips with a relatively small number of confirmed cases of tumors associated with microchips, the AVMA advises against a rush to judgment on the technology.” In the great majority of cases, microchips have saved lives and kept dogs and their families together without any drawbacks. While a dog can easily lose its tags or collar, it’s almost impossible to lose a microchip barring serious injury, and the benefits can outweigh the risks.