What If All Licensed Pets Were Microchipped?

You know the drill – you’re walking contentedly down the street and look up to spy a “Lost Dog” poster mounted on the phone pole. You take a moment to read it, scan your memory to see if the description or picture sparks any recognition, then shake your head in sorrow as you walk on, wishing them the best in their search for their beloved companion. It’s a rather common scenario, especially after a major fireworks event or thunderstorm.

Then, while reading the news a couple of days later you notice a small headline, “City Government Mandates Microchipping of All Licensed Pets”. Interesting, you muse, remembering the lost dog poster you passed. You read on. It seems the city council has voted to phase in automatic microchipping of both cats and dogs, to be completed at their annual license renewal.

However, because microchipping is completed at the veterinarians, the program will be phased in over a two year period. Expected rate of compliance is approximately 84% – the compliance rate of dog licensure. Penalty for non-compliance, you read, is tiered. First offense is a warning, second is a small fine and third is a mandatory stay at the city shelter for the pet to be microchipped, and all fees paid by the animal’s owner. Further reading informs you that dogs and cats are licensed in this city, but other animals (ferrets, hamsters, turtles,, other reptiles, pigs, horses, goats, etc) tho they can be microchipped, are not included in the mandatory law as they are not licensed.

Lots of questions swarm through your brain. All licensed pets microchipped… who benefits? How much does it cost? Who pays? How? Will it help? If so, what will it help? How?

Microchipping – the application of a rice-sized implant under the skin of your pet between the shoulder blades – aids in the recovery of your pet if s/he’s lost or stolen. The small device emits a radio frequency which is easily picked up on a hand held scanner. The chipping usually takes place in a vet’s office quickly and easily, with no anesthetic required. The microchip is injected under the skin by a syringe, then scanned to ensure it is sending properly and can be easily read. Then the pet owner registers the chip number, the animal and owner characteristics and contact information with either their vet or to the registry of that specific brand of microchip. Microchipping is done once in a pet’s lifetime, and lasts for the pet’s lifetime, under normal conditions.

Benefits of microchips:

Quick, safe and easy identification of animals picked up by animal control or turned into animal control shelters or vets offices.

Reduction of animal control expense of housing, feeding, provision of medical care, etc. to pets because microchipped pets are quickly and safely reunited with their owners.

Owners of pets easily benefit by quick and safe return of their lost or stolen animals, with microchipped cats being returned over 20 times more than non-microchipped cats, and microchipped dogs returned 2.5 times more than non-microchipped dogs (  for the actual national study itself).

Problems of microchips:

 Scanner error – use of non-universal microchip scanner (rare as more offices use the newer, universal ISO standard scanner technology).

Failure of microchip to emit designated radio waves (quite rare).

Difficulty in detection due to migration of chip (again, rare), wriggling animal or metal on collars which interfere with scanner. These problems are mitigated by facilities scanning multiple times during the stay of the animal in the facility.

Pet owner error – failure to keep contact information current with the microchip registry (most common problem – a bit over 30% of microchipped animals are unable to be reunited with their owners because of lack of current contact information).

Please note: British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) began a database in 1996 of adverse reactions to microchips. Their database states of the over 4 million animals microchipped, as of late 2009 there had been only 391 reported adverse reactions. (  for full report)

Costs Related to Microchipping:

Initial cost of implant – between $25 – 75.00.

No further monetary costs to pet owner, however there is the cost of time and memory to keep the registry updated of all moves and phone number changes.

Veterinary offices and shelters have scanner and chip costs, including upgrading of equipment.

In my fantasy world where all pets are microchipped we would easily find our lost or stolen companions. All clouds have a silver lining. Every pet owner would keep their contact information current in the registries. And the “Lost Pet” posters pinned to the phone poles would become a thing of the past.