What’s In A Microchip?

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Do you ever wonder what’s in a microchip? When you work with animals every day, it can sometimes be easy to fall into a pattern of assuming that everyone else in the world has all the same information you have. You find yourself talking to people in jargon and getting a little irritated when they misunderstand something that seems obvious to you because you’re in the midst of it every day. 

A lot of people don’t know what a microchip is

I got a reality check recently when speaking to a woman who had a variety of questions and ideas about microchipping that seemed pretty wild and contrary to common sense until I stepped back to think about it. I mean, some of it was still definitely bonkers, but some of it was simple misunderstanding and lack of information. So, for her and anyone else who needs it, here’s a guide to microchips from the very basics on up.

A veterinary microchip is a small RFID chip. Although “microchip” implies that it’s microscopic and some of the chips in computers, phones, and other everyday tech are very small, a standard veterinary microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. It is injected using a large syringe (MUCH bigger than a vaccine syringe used for pets and many times bigger than a syringe used to vaccinate humans). On dogs and cats, the microchip is normally inserted under the loose skin between the shoulder blades. If your pet is chipped and you feel around in that area, you may be able to feel the chip. 

What a microchip does not do…

A microchip is NOT a GPS tracker. It does not allow the shelter, your veterinarian, any company, or the government to track your pet’s location. If your pet is lost, you can’t pinpoint their location using their microchip. There are GPS trackers on the market (such as Apple AirTags or Whistle trackers) that you can affix to your pet’s collar if you have concerns about them escaping. These are a good safety measure if your pet is prone to wandering, if they’re skittish and will not go to strangers, or if you or they are in an unfamiliar area or transition, such as moving, traveling, or rehoming. The smallest GPS trackers are about the size of a quarter and all GPS trackers have batteries that must be replaced or recharged. The batteries can last a long time- up to a year or so. But not forever. 

So how does a microchip help your pet get back home?

In order for a chip to do its job, somebody has to find the pet and take them to be scanned. This is why, even if your pet is chipped, it’s a good idea to keep a collar with ID tags on them at all times. It means a stranger who finds your pet will face fewer obstacles to getting them back home and may be more able or willing to help. 

The information on the chip is only a number. If the chip is registered, the chip company can use that information to look up the pet’s file and owner’s information, but the only actual data on the chip is a unique number. The microchip company has only as much information as they’re given. If the microchip isn’t registered, is registered to an old owner, or is registered with old information, it makes it a lot harder to get in touch with the owner. If you’ve moved or changed your phone number since your pet was chipped and registered, your veterinarian can help you get the information you need to update the registry. 

How do you get a microchip?

Having your pet microchipped is a very quick, simple, and cheap process. It doesn’t require anesthesia or any kind of medication. It’s a simple injection that can be administered by a vet tech or experienced animal care staff. Although the needle is large, it’s a quick process and done in an area that isn’t very sensitive. Many pets don’t react to it at all, as though they hardly feel it. Animal shelters and animal controls will often have low-cost microchip clinics ($5-$15 for the chip) or offer microchipping as a part of their daily operations. 

How Does A Microchip Benefit Your Pet?

So what about tracking a microchip on a found pet? Scanning for a microchip is also a quick and easy process, but sometimes takes a little insider knowledge. If you’ve found a pet and want to have them scanned for a chip, check with your nearest animal shelter, veterinary office, or police station. Most should have microchip scanners available. They will turn the scanner on and run it over the outside of the animal’s body like when you run groceries over a scanner. The scanner doesn’t even need to touch the body to work. Sometimes, microchips can slip out of place and move to other spots on the body, so it’s important to scan the whole body- not just the shoulders, but the back, sides, and legs. 

Once a chip is found, searching the number on the AAHA microchip lookup tool will tell you (or the person helping you) which company manufactured the chip and should have it registered. Microchip companies will not typically release owner information to a regular person for privacy and safety reasons, but will to vets, police, or animal shelters. They will also call the owner themselves if the chip is registered.

If the chip isn’t registered, don’t give up! It may not yet be a dead end. There is one more step you can take. This is not information the chip company typically offers without being asked and the person helping you track the chip may not know it. Chip companies keep a record of who bought the microchip from them. In other words, they should be able to tell you what vet, rescue, breeder, or animal control put that chip in that animal. Most vets/rescues/etc keep their own records of animals they’ve chipped and may be able to find the owner’s information. In the case of some rescues and breeders, they may even be able to hang onto the animal and keep them safe in the meantime if the owner is difficult to get in touch with. 

Microchips are amazing things that save lives and facilitate miracles. Lost pets have been reunited with their people after being lost for months or even years through their microchips. It keeps pets who have loving homes from becoming shelter statistics when their owners just don’t know all the ways to look for a lost pet. Take the time to get your own pets chipped and keep their registration up to date. It could save their lives one day. 


We know you’re committed to keeping your pet safe, whether it’s by keeping their microchip up to date or by being really picky about who takes care of them while you’re away. Well, lucky you- you’ve got a network of pet-sitters you can trust to be just as concerned about your pet’s wellbeing as you are! We’re just a phone call or an e-mail away!

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