Here in south-central Pennsylvania, dog wardens have been going house-to-house recently, asking to see proof of rabies vaccination and licensing for all dogs in the household. Licensing of dogs over 3 months of age is a state law in Pennsylvania, as it is in many other states. Not having up-to-date rabies vaccination and licensing through your county can result in fines of up to $300. Licensing is meant to facilitate reuniting you with your dog if he or she gets lost. If your dog is microchipped, you can apply for a lifetime license. This means you pay the county one time (currently $31.45 for a neutered or spayed dog vs. $6.45 annually), and your dog is licensed for his or her life. Not only does this eliminate having to remember to renew the license each year, it greatly increases your chance of having your dog returned to you in the event you get separated.
I get asked a lot of questions about microchips, so here’s my top 5 list about them.
5 – Implanting Microchips Involves a Big Needle
Don’t be scared. When I say “big” needle, I mean it’s larger than what we use to vaccinate. However, most pets (even tiny pups and kittens) don’t react to the injection, and it is literally over in seconds. The microchip itself is about the size of a grain of rice and comes in a sterilized package, already in place within the needle/syringe combo. Implanting a microchip does NOT require surgery or even anesthesia, even though some folks prefer to wait until their pets are under anesthesia (such as for spay or neuter surgery) to have the chip implanted. It’s really your choice, but the sooner the microchip is in place, the better. If you would like to watch a video showing dogs being implanted, you can view one here (and a big shout out to my vet school classmate featured in this video)!
4 – Microchips Have a Number Coded on Them, and That’s It
Each chip comes from the manufacturer with a unique number encoded in it, like the VIN on your car. None of your personal information is on the chip. Depending on the manufacturer, the code may have 9, 10, or 15 digits. A microchip cannot be used like a tracking device to locate your pet.
3 – Microchips Aren’t Like Pacemakers
If you know anyone who has a pacemaker, you probably realize that it has a battery that will need to be replaced. A microchip doesn’t have a battery or other power source; it’s totally passive. When the hand-held receiver is passed over it, a signal is sent showing the unique identification number. There are no moving parts and there is nothing to wear out.
2 – Chapter 31 of PA State Code Says Who May Implant Microchips
So it’s pretty obvious that veterinarians are allowed to implant microchips, but is anyone else permitted? State code says that certified veterinary technicians are may implant microchips under “indirect veterinary supervision.” Non-certified veterinary employees may implant microchips under “direct veterinary supervision.” [Indirect veterinary supervision = vet not on the premises but has knowledge of animal(s) via exams. Direct veterinary supervision = vet on the premises and has given written or oral instruction to employee.]
1 – You MUST register your pet’s microchip!
This is the most important part for your pet. You’ve spent the money to have the chip implanted and your dog (or cat, bird, horse, ferret, etc.) has endured the jab of the needle. Now imagine that your dog runs away, and he gets picked up by a concerned citizen who takes him to a local vet’s office. The staff scan him and find a microchip number. They search for his number in all the databases, but you didn’t register him, so they can’t connect him to you. The most they will be able to do is contact the chip manufacturer to narrow down to whom (vet clinic, rescue organization, SPCA, etc.) the chip was sold. Or perhaps your dog will be lucky because he’s still within your county, and you bought a lifetime license, so the vet staff can find you that way. But what if he’s three counties over, or even in another state?
There are multiple registries available, and you do not have to use the one associated with the brand of microchip your pet has. Personally, I like petlink.net. You pay a one-time fee of $19.99 to register your pet, and that’s it. Some of the other registries have annual fees. Another useful tool is the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Universal Pet Microchip Lookup, which allows quick searching of all the registries (that agree to participate).
If your pet is lost, please start by filing a lost pet report with your registry. They all have tips to help you organize your search. I’ll wrap up by sharing this happy story of a Chihuahua reunited with his mom and dad two years later due to his microchip. This tiny little device really is a great investment. I’d love to hear any stories you can share about microchips helping pets!