Podcast: What are Pet Microchips and Why are They So Important?

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what are pet microchips

Microchipping your pets is an important topic to understand regardless of time of year, but is especially important as we head into fireworks season, when the shelters are overrun with traumatized pets fleeing the loud booms and now need help getting home.

Most pet parents have at least heard of microchips, but there is still a lot of confusion when it comes to what they actually do and the proper steps you have to take to ensure the chip is actually registered, and your contact information is updated.

Play Paws & Play episode What are Pet Microchips and Why are They So Important?
Paws & Play What are Pet Microchips and Why are They So Important?


What a Microchip Isn't

First thing's first, a microchip is not a tracking device for Big Brother to keep tabs on you or your pet. (Good thing, because I'd like to think people have better things to do than keep tabs of how many times Marshall follows me to the refrigerator as I open it to see if something fun and delicious has magically appeared since looking thirty minutes before.)

A microchip is not a GPS tracking device, so please do not expect it to be able to tell you where your animal is.

It's important to know that not all microchip scanners read all microchips. This is something that I only learned very recently and it has bothered me so much that I want to spread the word as much as possible.

Microchips aren't standardized, so there are several kinds and they're transmitting signals at different frequencies and not every reader will is able to pick up those frequencies.

Thankfully, more vets and shelters are getting universal scanners which can read across frequencies, but this is good to keep in mind if you should ever find a lost pet and take them to get scanned and nothing shows up.

What is a Microchip?

A microchip uses passive technology, so they're not constantly transmitting data, or a location, or anything like that. Microchips only start transmitting a signal when you pass the scanner or reader over it.

Chips are usually (but not always) implanted underneath the skin between a cat or dog's shoulder blades, below the neck, but sometimes the chip will migrate down the side. So asking for a scan every so often when you see the veterinarian is a good habit to create.

Quick Tip: Like all technology, microchips are capable of failing. And while not likely, it's also possible for a chip to migrate.


When you see your veterinarian for a regular exam, ask them to check and see that your pet's microchip is working, and that the registration information is up-to-date.

Most veterinarians will have a pet's microchip number on file, so you can keep it updated with them and also ask them for that information in case you've misplaced it.

Most recently, microchips have been invaluable at reuniting pets with their owners after hurricanes and other natural disasters.

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What Happens When a Pet Gets Microchipped?

While the needle being used for the procedure may look a bit daunting and is definitely larger than what you'll see for vaccinations, most dogs and cats don't seem to mind at all. Some of that might be due to practices using more positive reinforcement and other training techniques to build better associations with coming to the vet.

Microchipping usually takes place during the kitten vaccination series, but some people wait until their puppy or kitten is getting spayed or neutered and will be under anesthesia.

Dr. J Cautions: The only issue with waiting to microchip your pet until they are spayed or neutered, is that this means they will be without a microchip for 6 months or even longer, and that is a long time to go without.

Once a Pet is Microchipped You Still Need to Register the Chip with Your Information

This is where a lot of unfortunate confusion takes place. Just because your pet is microchipped does not mean they are registered, and even if it is registered, it doesn't mean the contact information is up-to-date.

Some vets and shelters will register the microchip for you, but not most, so check with them ahead of time instead of assuming and walking out the door.

Registering your pet's microchip is really easy, and even if it's registered in one place, it's even more helpful to have it registered across multiple sites!

First, register with the manufacturer of the microchip that was implanted in your pet. Usually, after the procedure your vet will hand you a form for you to go home with that has the information for registration.

To be safest, we recommend that, at the very least, you register your pet's microchip both with the manufacturer's registry and with the Found Animals registry.

Note that some registries are "universal" (can register any brand of microchip), while others are limited only to their brand of microchip. Also, some registries charge both to register and do updates or transfers, while others charge for some of these steps but not all, and some are completely free.

We understand that sometimes money can be an issue, but if you're holding off on microchipping your pet for financial reasons, I would highly recommend looking for free microchipping services or events in your area throughout the year.

If you would like to register your microchip with the manufacturer but are unsure if which one it is, use the AAHA Universal Pet Microchip Lookup Site to find it by plugging your pet's microchip number into their database. They will tell you who the manufacturer is, and give you their contact information to register with them.

If you have moved with your pets to the United States from another country (or visa versa) you'll want to make sure their microchip can be scanned by whatever reader is available near you. You may need to get them chipped again with a "local" microchip that emits the right frequency. Then make sure to register your new chip or update your old one with your new contact information.

Learn more about how to register your pet's microchip and check to make sure your contact information is updated.

What Types of Fees Should You Expect to Pay for Your Pet's Microchip?

There are completely free options, like Found Animals Foundation, and probably some others (please let us know about other resources in the comments section below). Others may charge lifetime fees, annual fees, or a la carte services like email and social media alerts.

Thanks again for reading and listening. Have a story to share with us? We'd love to hear from you!

About the author

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Mia Horberg

Mia Horberg is a Digital Strategist at Preventive Vet, and when she's not working she is watching Jeopardy! with her wife, planting flowers and veggies, and hanging out with her senior rescue pug Mabel Petrillo, and exotic shorthair kitty, Mazel von Schmear Visage. A lover of all animals, Mia is also lucky enough to volunteer at a rescue where she gets to hang out with goats and sheep every week.

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