Understanding Microchips and “add on” Microchip Services

As many of us know, it is a wise decision to have your pet microchipped. For example, microchips for dogs and cats help to get them home safe if they are lost. But sometimes microchip services can be confusing, and made even more confusing by certain tactics by the microchip manufacturers. This article discusses what microchips are, how they are scanned, and whether you need to subscribe to the “add on” services offered by some microchip companies.

About microchips

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First of all, a microchip is a small Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) device that is implanted just beneath the skin. It’s a little bit like a barcode: when the microchip is scanned, an identifier is revealed that can be used to look up the pet’s home address and phone number. This is why it is so important to update the information with the microchip company before you move.

There are many different microchip companies (such as AVID and HomeAgain), and when you adopt a dog or cat, he or she will usually already have a microchip with one of those companies. There are four different types of microchips used by a number of microchip companies, which are either proprietary or conform to an international standard. This is one place where things can get complicated: if you have more than one pet, it means you can end up registered with several different companies. Also, the scanner that is used to look for a microchip needs to understand the “barcode”.  If you are in the U.S., some scanners used by your local shelter may not work with the microchip implanted in your pet. According to Wikipedia:

In the U.S., three proprietary types of chips compete along with the international standard. Scanners distributed to US shelters and vets well into 2006 could each read at most three of the four types. Scanners with quad-read capability are now available and are increasingly considered required equipment. Older scanner models will be in use for some time so US pet owners must still choose between a chip with good coverage by existing scanners and one compatible with the international standard.

To learn more about microchips in general, you can refer to this page on Wikipedia.

What is this subscription I keep getting emailed about

You might receive advertisements to subscribe to a service that your microchip company offers. Many, such as the email below, imply that you need to pay a recurring fee to keep your microchip active, but in most cases your contact information will be kept on file anyway (as noted in the last line of the email below).  Be sure to read the fine print or call the company for clarifications before spending money on a service that may not be needed.

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What if I need that service?

By all means use this service if you feel it will help you reunite with your pet in the event he or she is lost. Just be sure to read the fine print, research, compare prices, and see what works best for you and your pet.

About the Author: Jen deHaan is an animal advocate, dog blogger, graphic designer, and dog enthusiast living in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two dogs. She participates in local dog sport competitions, and has taken several courses and seminars on dog training and behavior including Trish King’s Canine Behavior Academy and John Rogerson's 21 day intensive in India. Jen runs a small business making handmade dog products called Stylish Canine, and is also a freelance graphic designer.  This article was first posted on November 14, 2012 on Dogthusiast.

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