Yes, it can help a lost pet find its way home. But your pet's microchip may not be everything that you think it is. And if you're not using it correctly, it might even make it harder for someone to find your contact information should your pet become lost.
Here are five things you may not know about your pet's microchip and what you can do to make sure it provides your pet with the ultimate protection.
1. The chip is useless if you don't register it.
Many people think that if their pet has a chip, they will never get lost — that any animal shelter or vet will be able to pull up their contact information and call them directly.
But microchips don't store your personal information. Rather, they store a unique code that is linked to that chip. If you don't register that code and connect it with your contact information, then whoever scans that code will be no closer to finding you than they were if the chip weren't there at all. If you have adopted a microchipped pet from the animal shelter, don't assume that the shelter completed the registration for you. Most do not.
2. There are several brands of chips, and not all scanners can read all chips.
There are around a dozen companies that distribute microchips for pets including AVID, HomeAgain, 24PetWatch, Bayer, ResQ and the AKC to name a few. These chips operate on one of three basic frequencies: 125 kHz (AVID, HomeAgain and 24PetWatch) 128 kHz (AKC) and 134.2 kHz (Found Animals, Datamars, ResQ, HomeAgain, AKC, 24PetWatch, Bayer and 911 Pet Chip.)
The problem is that not all scanners can read all three of these frequencies. So if your pet has a HomeAgain chip but he is brought to a shelter that only has a 125 kHz scanner, the shelter staff will never know he is chipped. Fortunately, most microchip companies now produce universal scanners that can read all kinds of chips, but there is no guarantee that the shelter where your pet winds up will have one.
3. There are several microchip registries, and they may not share information.
Let's say your pet has an AVID microchip but you register it with the AKC registry. If your pet becomes lost and the shelter finds that she has an AVID chip, they will call the company directly. If AVID does not have your up-to-date information, the search will stop there.
The American Microchip Advisory Council is working to create a streamlined database that will simplify the registration process. But until they do, your best option is to register your pet with multiple registries. Some charge fees for the initial registration and every time your update your information. Others charge an annual fee to maintain your records. The Found Animals Microchip Service is a free, non-profit animal registry, but not all shelters utilize this resource in finding a lost pet's contact information.
4. Your pet's microchip is not a GPS.
Some people mistakenly believe that a microchip is like a GPS tracker that can be used to find a pet's location should he become lost. But microchips don't transmit information. When a scanner is passed over the top of a microchip, it will show the chip's code which can then be linked to the owner's contact information. But at no point can the chip actually be used to determine the pet's location.
5. A microchip is not a replacement for a collar and tag.
Think about it. If your pet becomes lost, the first person she is likely to encounter will not be an animal shelter employee but rather your neighbor down the street, or the attendant on duty at the rest stop where your pet jumped out of the car. You can save everyone — including your pet — a lot of trouble by making sure that your pet has a collar with your contact information on it. If the collar comes off, a microchip can serve as a good backup and help your pet find her way home once she has been taken to the shelter. But you should not use it as a replacement for a good old-fashioned collar and tag.