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The Importance of Pet Identification

Millions of dogs and cats are taken to animal shelters as strays each year -- but only about 15 percent of dogs and 2 percent of cats who end up in shelters without an ID tag or microchip are reunited with their owners. Most of the remaining pets never find a home and are ultimately euthanized.

Microchipping has become a very popular and safe way to permanently identify a pet in case he or she is lost. Even the most responsible pet owners can be accidentally or unexpectedly separated from their pets. If your pet becomes lost and is transported to a local animal rescue center or animal hospital, they will be able to scan your pet for the chip and contact you. One time our hospital contacted a pet owner before they realized their pet was even missing since the pet was just indoors one hour before!

Microchips are a permanent, easy way to identify lost pets and help reunite them with their owners, and they're usually completely problem-free. They can also assist where the ownership of an animal is in dispute. The microchip is a tiny computer chip, about the size of a grain of rice, programmed with an identification number. The chip is enclosed in biocompatible glass and is small enough to fit into a hypodermic needle.

Once an animal is injected with a chip, it can be identified throughout its life with this one-of-a-kind number using a hand held scanner. Puppies and kittens can be chipped as early as 6 weeks of age. The same size microchip and needle are used in pets even smaller than puppies and toy breeds, including kittens, birds, tortoises, and even fish.

Microchips are permanent and can't be lost, altered, or destroyed. Pet owners have been reunited with chipped pets missing for years or that have traveled thousands of miles. A special scanner is used to send a radio signal to the chip to read the identification number. The pet feels nothing when the scanner is placed over it and the number is displayed on the scanner. The person reading the scanner can contact a national registry, such as the one listed on our website, to find the pet owner.

The microchip has no power supply, battery, or moving parts, and it is designed to last the life of the pet. Once injected, the microchip is anchored in place as a thin layer of connective tissue forms around it. The microchip is inert, smooth, nontoxic, and nonallergenic. Animal shelters and veterinarians are finding chips in more and more lost pets. They are aware of the national registries and routinely contact them to obtain owner information regarding the pet. They then contact owners to advise them their pet has been found.

In most countries, ID chips used in pets follow an international standard, enabling widespread compatibility between the chips and scanners. But in the U.S., there are three proprietary types of chips in addition to the international type. Scanner models distributed to U.S. shelters and vets well into 2006 could each read at most three of the four types. But now, several scanner models with quad-read capability are becoming available. Older scanner models continue to be distributed, and may be in use for some time, so U.S. pet owners still face a choice of getting a chip that gets best coverage on the older style scanners in use locally, or a chip with best acceptance in international travel.

If a pet is lost and has a microchip, there is a good chance it will be reunited with its owner, according to a recent study published in the Journal of American Veterinary Medicine. Fifty-three shelters in 23 states participated in a study, which revealed that shelter officials were able to find the owners of lost microchipped pets in nearly three out of four cases. In the study, the biggest reason owners couldn't be found was because of an incorrect or disconnected phone number in the registration database. Microchipped cats were returned to owners 20 times more often than non-microchipped cats. Dogs that were microchipped were 2.5 times more likely to be returned to their owners than non-microchipped dogs.

 It is very important to update your information whenever your address or phone number changes. Also, while this research shows the importance of microchipping, nothing replaces the need for a collar and tag with the owner's contact information. If a phone number is listed on the tag, this is the easiest way to find the owner of a lost pet.

A missing pet can be terribly distressing, but your odds of seeing your pet again can increase with proper identification. We always recommend a safety collar and tag for both cats and dogs, but collars can be lost or slipped, and a microchip is the safest way to ensure you can be reunited with your pet.

Hillary Frank, DVM, Dipl. ABVP (Avian) is the owner of North Central Animal Hospital, P.C.,  20 W. Dunlap Ave.  She can be reached at 602-395-9773.  This information is provided as general information only.  For specific advice on your pet's health, consult your veterinarian.

Save 50% on Microchips in June!