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What is a Microchip?

A microchip is a small glass capsule, about the size of a grain of rice. It contains a computer chip that stores a unique number that can be used to identify an animal when the chip is scanned. The microchip doesn’t have a power supply, battery, or moving parts – it is activated when a scanner is passed over the area and radio waves from the scanner ‘read’ the chip. The chip’s number is transmitted to the scanner’s display, where it can be noted down and looked up in any microchip registry.

A microchip is NOT a GPS unit or tracking device – it cannot be used to locate a missing animal. Rather, it stores information about the animal and their guardian, so that if the animal is found, their identity can be confirmed and their humans located. Collars and identification tags are important protective elements as well, but microchips provide an extra layer of identification if those tags are lost or removed. Microchips can also help prove identity and ownership in unfortunate cases of theft or abduction.

How and Where is a Microchip Implanted?

The microchip is implanted beneath the skin, between the shoulder blades. It is inserted with a hypodermic needle – although the needle is slightly larger than those used to administer vaccines, the process is just as quick and there is usually little to no reaction from the patient. Microchips can be implanted during a regular veterinary appointment, as they don’t require surgery or anesthesia. However, we often choose to microchip animals at the same time as their spay or neuter surgery when they are already under anesthesia. After the microchip is implanted, a small layer of connective tissue forms around it. This tissue usually prevents the microchip from migrating to other parts of the body, although sometimes the chip will shift slightly over time – this is most likely to occur in animals with extra loose skin, in large active animals, or with age as the skin begins to sag.

How Does Microchip Registration Work?

As part of the implantation process, your veterinarian will register your companion (including your contact information) with the registry associated with their microchip provider. You will typically receive a copy of the microchip number with your appointment records. It is a good idea to note this information prominently in your companion’s home file or wherever you keep key family and personal information.

It is important to know that while the microchip will remain present and readable throughout your companion’s life, you will need to be proactive in updating any changes to your contact information (ownership, address, phone number, etc).  There are also numerous provincial, national and international pet registries – you can choose to additionally register your companion with any of them, using the same microchip number (a separate microchip is not required). Some of these registry services are free of charge, while others have a fee associated with registration.

Should I Do Anything to ‘Maintain’ the Microchip?

Once the microchip has been implanted, there is very little that you need to do. However, it can be a good idea at your companion’s annual exam to ask your vet to scan the microchip to make sure it is still working and readable. Otherwise, as long as you keep your registration information up-to-date by contacting all microchip registries you have registered with any changes to address, phone number, or ownership, the microchip ensures that you and your companion have one more way to become reunited if anything happens!