A couple weeks ago, my dog Lucas dashed out of my backyard. He thought it was the best game ever: He’d sprint toward me then swerve past, trying to entice me to chase him. Because he was running in circles around me, I felt confident he’d eventually come to me when he realized I wasn’t playing. Unless a deer ran by. Or a car turned down the street. Or the neighbor’s cat was out.
Though the whole situation was frightening, the worst part was that he wasn’t wearing his collar. Yes, that’s irresponsible on my part, though whenever I have multiple dogs playing together – which is fairly often – I remove their collars because dogs can accidentally strangle each other during play.
However, I have a safety net in place: Lucas is microchipped.
A microchip is a small device – about the size of a grain of rice – that is inserted with a syringe between the shoulder blades. If your pet becomes lost, vets and shelters can swipe a scanner past the chip to gather all your contact information to reunite you with your pet.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association only 1.8 percent of all stray dogs and cats taken to participating shelters have microchips. That’s a pretty small amount of chipped pets. The same study also found that lost pets that had been implanted with a microchip were reunited with their families in almost three out of four cases.
Betsy Banks Saul, the co-founder of Petfinder.com, is working with HomeAgain, a pet recovery service with the first universal microchip database in the country. Both Lucas and my other dog Emmett have HomeAgain chips they received when they were shelter dogs. Most likely, if your pets came from the shelter, they’re chipped already. Saul pointed out that most chipped dogs and cats from shelters are still registered to the shelter, not to their new owner.
“Is your microchip registration up to date?” asked Saul. “You already have a chip in, when was the last time you checked your registration?” Of the strays turned into shelters, 35 percent of the microchipped pets who were not reconnected with their families remained in shelters because their chip had an incorrect or disconnected phone number.
Yes, there are health concerns associated with microchipping. There is one known case of a dog dying from cancer caused by his microchip. In addition, microchips can migrate. Emmett’s chip was implanted between his shoulder blades. A recent x-ray showed that it’s now in his shoulder.
Despite the health concerns, Saul stressed the importance of microchipping your pet – and updating the chip he or she already has. It’s crucial in the case of a disaster or forced evacuation, or an old dog who may get confused and wander off, or a stubborn and mischievous dog like Lucas who loves to sneak out to play.
“Check their chip registrations, and make sure they get registered into the universal database,” she said. “Most of the chip manufacturers in the U.S. all are participating in a centralized database, but it’s only as good as the data.”
After my conversation with Saul, I called HomeAgain to update my dogs’ chips. Unfortunately, the phone rep wasn’t aware of the universal database, though I was able to update their veterinarian contact info and my home phone number.
The bottom line? Every medical procedure, no matter how small, has an inherent risk. It seems that the risks associated with microchipping are pretty slim and are outweighed by the benefits (but definitely consult with your vet before deciding if one is right for your dog) – as long as you take the extra step to keep your pet’s microchip updated in a universal database.