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De-busting myths about pet microchipping

As responsible pet owners, we do whatever is needed to keep our cat or dog safe and sound, and this can include making sure they are easily identified. This is where microchipping comes in, but as with some technology, misconceptions can be off-putting so let's debunk some of the common myths about microchips for pets.

But firstly, what is a microchip? Put simply, microchipping is a permanent form of electronic identification that works by implanting a tiny chip (about the size of a grain of rice) that carries a unique numerical barcode under the skin. This number is recorded on a confidential database registry with details of the animal and their owner.

If a pet becomes lost, staff at veterinary clinics, animal shelters or local councils can use a microchip scanner to read the number and contact the owner through the database. It's crucial that your pet is microchipped because this makes it much more likely that you will be reunited should they become lost, providing you keep your contact details up to date on the database. Legislation requires that pets should be microchipped before the point of sale or adoption. In fact, microchipping is mandatory for cats and dogs in most states and territories. If for some reason, your pet is not microchipped, visit your veterinarian, who can perform this procedure.

So, what are some of the myths about microchipping and what are the facts you need to know?

Myth #1: Implanting a microchip is painful

Implanting a microchip is a quick and simple procedure. Veterinarians microchip cats and dogs by using a needle to implant the chip under the skin between the shoulder blades. As with routine vaccinations, microchipping can cause slight pain for a few seconds, but any temporary discomfort is outweighed by the long-term welfare benefits. Microchipping of animals is also very safe - adverse reactions are rare and the most common is migration of the chip from where it was implanted. For this reason, you should ask your veterinarian to routinely scan your pet's microchip to be sure it's in working order.

Myth #2: A microchip can track my pet’s location

A microchip is not a GPS or tracking device, so nobody can track your pet's location via the microchip for any purpose, whether this is to steal them or to help recover them if they become lost. This means that if you have lost your pet, you will still need to act quickly to help recover him or her by searching the local area, contacting pounds, shelters and veterinary clinics, putting up posters and using social media.

Myth #3: My personal information is exposed through the microchip

A pet's microchip number is linked on a secure database registry to their owner's name, address, phone number and email. As an owner, you are not required to provide any other personal information when registering your pet's microchip. The only people authorised to access the details you provide are veterinary, animal shelter or local council staff who need to contact you if your pet has been found.

Myth #4: A microchip doesn’t actually help a lost pet

There are many heart-warming stories of pets who were reunited with their owners , even 1,000 kilometres away or more, thanks to the pet being microchipped. Australian and international research has shown that lost cats and dogs who have been microchipped have a much greater chance of being reunited with their owners compared with those who were not microchipped. A study on microchip data in stray dogs and cats entering RSPCA Queensland shelters found that pets were most likely to be reclaimed by their owners if they were microchipped and their owners’ details were up to date on the database registry (61% reclaim rates for cats and 87% for dogs).

The percentage reclaimed was lower if these details were out of date (33% for cats and 69% for dogs) and the lowest reclaim rates were for non-microchipped pets (5% for cats and 37% for dogs). The important message here is that if your cat or dog becomes lost, your best chance of being reunited with them is having had them microchipped and making sure that you keep your contact details on the microchip registry database up to date. A microchipped pet is less likely to be reunited with you if your contact details on the microchip database are out of date, such as if you have moved, changed your phone number or if you became their new owner but the old owner’s details are still registered to the microchip.

Myth #5: A microchip can replace an identification tag for my pet

Microchipping offers the best chance of your pet being returned to you if they become lost because the microchip is permanent, cannot fall off and the information will never fade. It’s important to remember that a microchip will only assist a lost pet if somebody finds them and takes them to a veterinary practice, animal shelter or local council where staff can use a scanner to check the microchip number against a database registry. You should still fit your pet with a collar and clearly printed identification tag because if they wander from home, anyone who finds them in your local area can return them to you more quickly and with less inconvenience to themselves. And remember that both forms of identification can be important in emergency planning for your pet.

Prepare for the unexpected

As careful as you are with your precious cat or dog, the unexpected can happen, such as someone leaving a door or gate open, and the consequences can be fatal if your pet is not returned home. Having your cat or dog microchipped is an essential part of their identification and offers the best chance of having them returned safely to you, where they belong. Microchipping also has broader animal welfare benefits by reducing the number of lost and stray animals who end up in shelters and pounds.

If you have any questions or concerns about microchipping, seek the advice of your veterinarian.

Another protection for your pet, you may wish to consider is an RSPCA Pet Insurance policy, to give you peace of mind knowing if your pet is accidently injured or becomes ill, you’ll have cover to help pay toward a potentially expensive vet bill.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.