Microchip technology has been around in one form or another for decades and we use it in everyday applications such as credit card security without giving it a thought. The use of microchips in humans is currently under development and could be used in the future for logging into computers, unlocking devices, and storing medical data. It has long been used as a safe and proven method for recording identification details of animals, and a large number of species can be microchipped including birds and reptiles.

Microchips are an effective way for pets to be reunited with their owners if lost, and vets and shelters routinely examine strays for microchips. They are a permanent ID and last the life of the pet. They are read by passing a scanner over the animal that reads the microchip’s unique code. Collars and identification tags are a simple and straightforward way to add identification to your pet and most can be trained successfully to wear them, but some animals resist them and they can come off. 

Microchips are about  the size of a grain of rice and in dogs and cats they are usually inserted at the back of the neck between the shoulder blades. Sometimes the chip can be felt under the skin and once inserted thin layers of tissue grow around the implant which holds it in place. They can move with age, but vets and animal shelters are aware of this and scan animals’ entire bodies to check for microchips. There is no risk that they will move to vital organs.

The chip is inserted with a needle, the procedure doesn’t need anaesthetic, and it only takes a few minutes in a process which similar to a routine vaccination. Microchips are non-toxic and do not cause discomfort.

Last year 49% of dogs that found their way to the RSPCA in South Australia were reclaimed, while only 3.7% of cats were reclaimed. Microchipping is a simple method to increase the rates of repatriation of lost animals and decrease the numbers that are ultimately euthanised because of overcrowding in shelters.

The key to success with microchipping is of course to ensure that your information is up-to-date in the recovery program database so that vets and shelters can reunite you with your pet. A microchip without current contact information is virtually useless. There are a number of registers that record this information and most will provide an option for you to make changes online. The National Pet Register is Australia's largest not-for-profit pet identification and recovery service. It accepts microchip registrations from veterinary clinics, animal welfare organisations and pet shops:  http://www.petregister.net/forms/change-address/form.html. Another option, the Pet Address search engine, allows you to search for the microchip number of a pet in various animal databases: www.petaddress.com.au.

Other uses of microchips include the activation of some pet doors which can be programed to recognise specific animals. Also, some countries require microchips for imported animals to match vaccination records. One day we might be using them to save us from needing to remember our PIN’s and carry cards, but regardless of their potential applications for human use, there is no more straightforward and reliable way to ensure that your pet can be identified and linked to you.

We strongly recommend microchipping, and puppies and kittens can safely be microchipped from six weeks of age. If you have any questions about microchipping, need to know your pet’s microchip number or, want to arrange to have your pet microchipped, please contact any of the Vets4Pets locations. Also, if you’re interested in seeing the procedure, following is a short video of Dr Anna Duffield microchipping a dog. We warn that it may have the “squirm factor” for people who don’t like needles!