Microchipping is one of those controversial issues in dog ownership. It all comes down to your dog’s safety and security … and whether microchipping helps or harms.
What Is A Dog Microchip?
Microchips are small radio-frequency devices (about the size of a grain of rice) implanted under your dog’s skin. A pet microchip contains a transponder that can help find your dog if he gets lost. Shelters and vet clinics have pet microchip scanners to read the chips … so you should make sure you keep your dog’s microchip registration up to date with current contact information. It’s a good idea to add an emergency contact (like your veterinary clinic) in case they can’t reach you.
The microchip stores a unique ID number of 9, 10 or 15 characters. Your contact information is attached to that number and stored within a pet recovery database. The chip emits a radio frequency signal so that when it’s read by a pet microchip scanner, the ID number comes up. The microchip registry receives a call and shares your contact info.
Microchips are inserted using a large-bore needle. The standard site for microchip implantation is in the subcutaneous tissue along the spine between your dog’s shoulder blades. For correct placement, your dog should be either standing or lying on his stomach.
Microchips are implanted in dogs and cats by veterinarians, animal shelters and breeders. Some retail stores offer microchipping … including for other pets like fish, ferrets, turtles, or birds. The cost ranges from $20 and $50, depending on whether it’s done at a vet’s office or other location.
In some countries, like the UK and Australia, pet microchipping is required. In the US it’s still voluntary, and in Canada, some places like Montreal require it. Of course, when you buy or adopt your dog. he may have been microchipped already by a shelter, rescue or breeder.
But you may still have a choice, so here are the pros and cons to help you decide.
8 Benefits Of Microchipping Your Dog
Should your dog ever get lost, peace of mind is the most important benefit of microchipping your dog. One study of 7,700 stray animals showed dogs without microchips made it home 21.8% of the time, vs 52.2% for microchipped dogs. Here are some other benefits.
- Reputable services like shelters, veterinary clinics and some police stations can notify owners when they find a microchip.
- The microchip can’t tampered with or removed (at least, not without surgery).
- It’s permanent. Ideally, the microchip should never need replacement.
- Your personal information is not visible. And it can be updated when you change your address or phone number (or if your pet goes to a new home).
- Microchips are harder to lose than your dog’s regular tags. But microchips can migrate … more about that in a bit).
- The cost is low.
- Implanting the chip is a quick procedure.
- There’s less stress on shelters. Microchipped dogs turned into shelters or vet clinics are scanned and returned to their owners faster.
11 Reasons Not To Microchip Your Dog
Here are some of the problems with microchipping your dog.
- Microchips Don’t Store Information
Microchips only store an ID number. So whoever scans it needs to find the registry where it’s recorded along with the dog owner’s contact information.
- There Are Multiple Microchip Database
There is no single national microchip registry database in the US. A quick search revealed dozens of “national databases” … separate databases, most of which charge a registration fee. So whoever microchips your dog needs to give you the paperwork so you can register him properly. And then hope that whoever finds and scans your lost dog finds the right registry.
- Microchips Aren’t Proof of Ownership
Microchips are not legal proof of ownership. Pets get microchipped by rescues, breeders, shelters, and veterinary offices. After that, it’s the dog owner’s responsibility to update their own information.
There are heartbreaking stories of dogs getting stolen or lost, then “adopted” by other people. So if someone else claims your dog, your microchip registration doesn’t guarantee you’ll get him back.
- There Are Duplicate Microchip Numbers
You wouldn’t expect this … but microchip numbers can be duplicates. More than one animal can have the same identification number. The USDA (US Department of Agriculture) knows about this problem, but nothing has been done.
- Microchipping Is Painful
The process is fast, like any injection. But it’s still painful for your pup so some veterinarians use a local anesthetic. But if you’re not having it done at a vet’s office, an anesthetic won’t be available.
- Microchips Migrate
Microchips migrate and become lost in your dog’s body. The person scanning your dog may give up and assume there’s no chip. There’s also the chance of a bad microchip, that stops working or gets expelled from your dog’s body.
- Human Error
Some microchip injections are done incorrectly, causing serious harm and even death in some cases. Plus, the people scanning lost dogs must know how to correctly and thoroughly scan a pet to locate a microchip … especially one that may have migrated away from the injection site.
- Non-Universal Scanners
A universal scanner must pick up all three frequencies of microchips used: 125 kHz, 128 kHz, and 134.2 kHz. But some shelters and vets assume that if their scanner picks up three different brands of microchips, it’s universal. And that’s not the case. Many organizations are unknowingly using non-universal scanners, and that means they’re missing chips and unable to reunite lost pets with their families.
- Scanner Error
Not all scanners are universal and some are better than others at reading a wide variety of microchips. That means your pet could get lost, found, scanned .. but euthanized if the scanner comes up “empty.”
- Microchips Don’t Locate Your Lost Dog
Microchips don’t transmit, so you can’t track down your dog if he’s stolen, or gets lost in the wild. The microchip will only help if your dog is found and turned into a local vet or shelter.
And there’s one more reason not to microchip your dog: the health risks.
Health Risks Of Microchips For Dogs
Yes, there are risks. there have been many cases of tumors and several studies documenting them. Research collected from 1996 to 2006 shows that .8% to 10% of microchipped animals developed malignant tumors in the implant area.
One document reviewed 11 studies published between 1990 and 2006. 3 of the studies were too small or too short to be useful. The other 8 studies found that from 1% to over 10% of rats and mice developed tumors that appeared to be caused by microchips.
Manufacturers Deny The Risk
Veterinarians and microchip manufacturers downplay the idea of a significant risk of tumors at the microchip site. They say adverse reactions are rare. But the problem is, there’s no requirement to report adverse reactions.
Pharmaceutical giant Merial says scientific studies show that microchip implants are totally painless and perfectly well tolerated by the animal. And that there’s no risk of itchiness, allergic reactions, or abscesses.
But there’s certainly anecdotal evidence of animals that developed (sometimes fatal) cancer at the injection sites. When tumors were removed, chips were found embedded within some of the tumors. Animals have experienced neurological damage as a result of microchips. Animals have also died due to the microchip implant procedure. A microchip was discovered in the brain stem of a kitten who died immediately. A young Chihuahua died within hours of being chipped, from excessive bleeding at the injection site.
Alternatives To Microchips For Dogs
The quickest way to find your dog is often the simplest.
Use a collar and tag with clear, updated information, including a phone number. In moments, someone can pull out their cellphone and call you directly to tell you they have your dog. I’ve made this call — and received the call — and it takes less than 5 minutes to reunite with your dog.
Sure, a tag can still be pulled off or get damaged. So always check your dog to make sure his collar and tag are secure. Some companies now offer tags with scannable QR codes. When someone finds your dog, they scan the code and get all his information.
Even though a tag can get lost, microchips aren’t 100% either. So why not get a couple of spare tags if you’ve got a dog who’s hard on tags? You can attach one to his collar as well as his harness if he wears one. That way he’ll have a backup if he manages to lose his collar on a bush.
Tattooing used to be the standard for identifying your dog. It involves tattooing a unique code or your phone number to your dog’s inner ear, his tummy, or the inner leg of a fully grown pet. It takes some time to shave the area and apply the tattoo, so the dog must be immobile … which means a sedative and local anesthesia are usually used.
Tattooing is a permanent identification that can’t be removed or lost. But someone has to know to look for it – and be comfortable handling your dog to look for it. You can use your phone number or a separate ID number and then register it with AKC Reunite, or National Dog Registry.
A GPS tracker attaches to your dog’s collar. As long as it’s attached, there’s no limitation to its range. If your dog is a few kilometers away or a few thousand, you can track him through an app on your smartphone. That means you don’t need to rely on the help of strangers to find him. They’re also waterproof in case your dog goes for a swim or gets separated from you in a natural disaster. Battery life lasts for a few days with some enhanced versions lasting several weeks.
A GPS tracker provides real-time location information on your dog’s whereabouts.
Costs range from $50 to $250 depending on the features. They cost more than microchipping but offer more features that go beyond lost and found needs.
The downfall is GPS trackers require a mobile signal, and there could be interference if the dog is indoors. Plus it emits an electromagnetic signal that your dog would be in contact with as long as he wears the tracker. Most holistic vets agree that EMFs make your dog susceptible to chronic diseases, and a GPS tracker means constant exposure. Still, you may decide to take this risk if your dog’s an escape artist. If you do, at least remove it at night when your dog’s (hopefully) safe in your bedroom!
This type of tracker can track your dog within 10 metres of your location using an app on your phone. It works if your dog dashes into the woods beyond the park or someone’s back yard but it’s limited beyond that. Interference and noise usually aren’t an issue. Its cost is lower than a GPS but there’s still the risk of EMF exposure.
Crowd Sourced Tracking
This is a tracker that uses a bluetooth long-range transmitter. It transmits a signal detected by any smartphone with the product app installed. You can send an alert to the app when your dog is missing and that alerts the community. Then you receive a notification when your dog is within range of a user who gets an alert. It’s dependent on creating a substantial user network. But in smaller areas, it can also share your information with social media. The battery can last up to a year.
Make sure your dog wears a collar with a well-secured up-to-date ID tag. Any other technology-based identification is up to you. But in the end, a pet identification tag is the easiest, fastest way for someone to find you and get your dog back where he belongs.