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Everything You Need to Know About Microchips for Dogs: Keeping Spot Safe

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Dog Safety By Kate Brunotts 8 min read May 24, 2021

all about microchips for dogs

It can happen in an instant.

The backdoor isn’t fully closed, Spot sees a squirrel, and suddenly your furry best friend has vanished! This is undoubtedly every pooch parent’s worst nightmare, but luckily, there are things you can use to prevent your dog from becoming totally lost, such as microchip implants.

Tiny little gizmos inserted under your dog’s skin, microchip implants are some of the best tools available to help locate your pooch if he strays from home. We’ll explain everything you need to know about them and where you can get one for your pet below. 

Microchip Implants for Dogs: Key Takeaways

  • Dog microchips are tools implanted under your pet’s skin to help make it easier to get him back home safe and sound. Each microchip bears a unique ID number, which is connected to your contact information in a database. By scanning the device, a vet or shelter worker can obtain your info and give you a call.
  • Microchips are helpful for getting your pooch back, but they aren’t trackers — they’re basically fancy ID tags. Microchips work passively. They must be scanned with a special tool, and they won’t allow you to see where your dog is via a phone or computer, as you would with a GPS tracker.
  • Most dogs are good candidates for microchips. Microchips are largely considered safe, they’re pretty simple for a vet to install, and they last for years.

What Are Microchip Implants For Dogs? 

photo of microchip implant

A microchip implant is a small metal device that is about the size of a grain of rice. 

These tiny chips contain a unique number that identifies your pet when scanned. Any veterinarian, shelter, or animal control facility should be able to scan this microchip and then obtain your contact information. This information is stored via a microchip registry which leads to a successful reunion with your four-footer.  

Just note that these are passive devices. Microchips can’t be tracked like GPS devices, as they primarily serve as ID tags, which won’t be lost or damaged. They can be removed if necessary, but they’re generally treated as more-or-less permanent, and most are designed to work for 25 years

Typically, dogs can get microchipped as early as 12 weeks of age (though you should always defer to your veterinarian’s recommendations). And it’s a good idea to get your dog microchipped as soon as possible, to make sure he’s identified even if his dog ID tags or collar get lost or damaged. 

How Do Microchips for Dogs Work? How Do They Help Me Get My Dog Back?

microchips can help you find lost dog

Losing track of your furry best friend is incredibly stressful, but knowing your dog has a microchip can help alleviate some of the uncertainty. Here’s a plausible scenario in which your dog’s microchip can help bring your best buddy home:

  1. You decide to get your dog a microchip. Job well done! Luckily, microchips aren’t very expensive and serve as excellent safety tools. Your veterinarian completes this quick procedure and gives you a pat on the back for being a prepared pooch parent. 
  2. Fido flees the scene. There are a million ways your doggo could disappear. You could accidentally leave the backdoor open, use a leash that doesn’t fit Fido properly, or have a miscommunication about who loaded Spot into the car during a road trip with your dog. But because you know that he has a microchip implant, you remain hopeful that he’ll be found and returned to you.
  3. A good Samaritan or animal control professional finds him. If you don’t find your furry friend first, hopefully a fellow pet lover will help you. 
  4. Doggo is taken to a vet or scanned by animal control. The good Samaritan takes your dog to the vet where the microchip is scanned, or — if animal control found him — they use their own scanning device to check for a ‘chip.
  5. The microchip is found, and provides a code that can be used to find your contact info. When scanned, the microchip number links back to a database with your contact information. From there, the good Samaritan, vet, or animal-control professional can give you a ring.
  6. You and your pooch are reunited! Thanks to the help of your dog’s microchip, your wandering best buddy makes it home safely. Hugs, slobber, happy tears, and canine butt-wiggles abound as you both celebrate.

As you can see, microchips play a key role in keeping your pooch safe. With that said, you’ll still want to make sure your dog is wearing his ID collar and tags whenever he’s outside of the house as not everyone will have a microchip scanner readily available. 

A Microchip May Not Be Enough

As mentioned, microchips are not GPS tracking devices — they only help when your dog is found and scanned by someone with the necessary equipment. Accordingly, many pup parents like to add a GPS tracker to their dog’s collar, which will allow you to track your dog via a computer or smartphone.

Are Microchips For Dogs Safe? Are There Any Risks? 

For most pet owners, the benefits of getting a microchip far outweigh any risks. 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, only 391 out of 4 million microchipped animals had experienced adverse reactions to the implants. While there have been reports regarding microchips causing cancer in some animals, microchips do not appear to be the direct cause of the disease.

Further, the AVMA explains that:

…studies have demonstrated good biocompatibility and minimal tissue reaction around implanted microchips.

Ultimately, microchips are reliable, minimal-risk safety tools for most dogs. That being said, it’s always worth discussing any concerns with your veterinarian, especially if your dog has other health issues. 

Where Can I Get My Dog “Chipped?”

A quick Google search will determine microchipping locations in your area, but most pet parents get their pet’s microchip installed at a vet or animal shelter. Getting your dog “chipped” is a relatively quick and easy procedure that can be performed during a routine or wellness visit. 

During the procedure, a veterinarian will implant the microchip between your dog’s shoulder blades. The microchip is inserted using a needle without anesthesia. Most of the time, this process is hardly painful for your pooch as it is similar to receiving a routine vaccine which he’s (hopefully) more or less used to. 

With that in mind, if your dog is sensitive to needles, you can have the microchip implanted during another procedure requiring anesthesia like a dental cleaning or spay/neuter surgery

Selecting The Right Microchip Type

Note that some microchips are designed to operate at different radio frequencies than others. Microchips in the United States are typically designed to operate at 125 kHz, 128 kHz, or 134.2 kHz, but the international standard for microchip frequencies is 134.2 kHz. So, if you have the option, chips operating at this frequency are ideal. 

This is important because different scanners detect different microchip frequencies, which means your dog’s chip may be missed if the scanner works on a different frequency than your dog’s chip.

Universal scanners can read all microchip frequencies, but because not every vet or shelter utilizes a universal scanner, it’s wisest to simply default to the 134.2kHz frequency. Also, note that if your pooch accompanies you internationally, it’s imperative that you select a chip that works at the 134.2 kHz frequency, as this is the one most commonly used abroad.  

Microchip FAQ: Your Dog Microchip Questions Answered 

Do you still have questions about getting your mutt a microchip? Here are a couple of commonly asked questions and answers to expand your knowledge. 

How effective are microchips at reuniting owners and dogs?

The proof is in the pudding! According to a study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, lost dogs without microchips were returned to their owners 21.9% of the time while microchipped dogs were returned 52.2% of the time. Needless to say, getting your best buddy a microchip, is a great way to keep him safe. 

Are dog microchips better than GPS trackers?

Not really — they serve a different function. Microchips are passive devices that only display and put out your contact information when scanned. They don’t require a battery, nor can they be lost. On the other hand, GPS trackers need to be charged and could theoretically be lost, but they track your pup’s location in real time. Ideally, you’ll use both to keep your pooch as safe as possible.

How do you know if your dog has already been microchipped? 

The best way to check if your dog has already been chipped is to have a local veterinarian or animal shelter give your dog a quick scan. Be sure to call ahead to make sure that your location of choice is using a universal scanner, so they’ll be able to find chips operating at any of the common frequencies.

What happens if I move or forget your dog’s microchip number? 

If you forget your dog’s microchip number, take him to your veterinarian or local animal shelter and ask for a scan. They should be able to get you the information you need so that you can store it somewhere safe moving forward. If you need to update your contact information, you can contact your dog’s microchip registry. 

Do canine microchips require any maintenance? 

Luckily, there’s no maintenance required with microchips other than making sure that your contact information is up to date in the registration database. Make a note to call the registry whenever you move or update other key contact information. 

Can you remove your pet’s microchip?

Microchips can technically be removed from dogs but it can be a risky and difficult process. Most veterinarians will recommend you keep your dog’s microchip barring any health complications as microchips prose little to no threat to your pooch and can always be updated if need be. 

Are dog microchips always found?

Unfortunately, no. It’s possible that whoever finds your dog may not have access to a microchip scanner or know where to find them. This is why it’s key to ensure your dog is always wearing a collar and ID tags, even if he has a microchip. In addition, not all facilities have access to a universal microchip scanner, so it’s possible that your dog’s microchip will be left undetected. To reduce your dog’s risk, it’s best to get a microchip with the ISO standard frequency of 134.2 kHz. Also, be sure to keep the microchip contact information up to date. 

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As you can see, microchipping your dog can be a great way to keep Fido safe. These small implants prose little risk to your pooch and provide valuable peace of mind. 

Does your pooch have a microchip? Do you have any escape scare stories? We’d love to hear all about it in the comments below!

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Written by

Kate Brunotts

Kate is a dog-loving content specialist with over a decade of canine-care experience. She is currently a professional dog walker and pet sitter, with previous experience working at the Heart of Chelsea Animal Hospital in Manhattan. When not spending time with four-footers, she can usually be found crafting top-notch dog-care articles that pet parents can trust. Kate loves dogs of all shapes and sizes, but Bernese Mountain Dogs hold a special place in her heart.

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