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How do Dog Microchips Work?

How do Dog Microchips Work? | BetterVet

The Must-Have Dog Accessory 

Is your dog the love of your life and considered one of the family? No doubt, the answer is yes. Microchips save the pain and heartache of searching for hours on end for your missing friend.  As a veterinarian, I often recall the tears of relief on the phone when a pet parent hears their dog was found safe from harm. The most common way dogs are reunited with pet parents is by scanning a dog’s microchip details. Around 75% of microchipped dogs can be reunited with their owners, so it’s well worth considering a dog microchip.  

How Do Dog Microchips Work? 

A microchip is a tiny transponder used to identify your dog uniquely. A dog microchip is roughly the size of a grain of rice that gets implanted under the skin. Transponder microchips need no power or batteries and no moving parts. Microchips are safe, inert objects to place under the skin. 

The microchipping process is a quick and often painless injection that does not need anesthesia. In younger puppies, our veterinarians may use numbing cream over the injection site first and distract your puppy from the microchip placement for dogs with some yummy treats.  Your veterinarian should check the microchip is working after the placement and again at each yearly health appointment. 

Once under the skin, the microchip can remain active for up to 25 years. The microchip contains a unique code that a dog microchip scanner can read. Most veterinarians, rescue shelters, and animal control officers carry microchip scanners. Once scanned, the number can be matched to a national database. Each number is registered to an owner and your contact details. Once scanned, the microchip number can be searched for you to be contacted to collect your dog or approve treatment if they are injured.  

Are Microchips for Dogs the Same as a GPS? 

No, a GPS device allows you to track your pet’s direct location. A dog microchip is a transponder and does not provide signaling to detect where your dog is. A dog microchip scanner can only read the microchip, and you can only be contacted if you have registered both the chip and your contact details on a national online database. 

You can choose a microchip and a GPS tracking device on your pet if you want extra security. It is common for dogs to wear a GPS tracker attached to the collar or harness. The disadvantage of these trackers is that they can be removed and therefore give inaccurate information on your pet's whereabouts.  

Disadvantages of Microchipping 

A dog microchip will only be useful if registered on a national database. If your dog is scanned with a microchip and the number is not registered, the person who has your dog has no way of getting in contact with you to let you know your dog is safe. Additionally, if the phone number or email address you supplied is no longer active, no one will be able to contact you about your dog’s whereabouts. This makes it very important for you to update your dog’s microchip details on the database regularly. Keeping a yearly reminder in your calendar can help schedule a time to check your contact details are up to date. 

Very rarely, microchips can fail. This means that the microchip can no longer be read by the microchip scanner. Your veterinarian should check the microchip is working each year at their annual health check. If your dog’s microchip is no longer active, a replacement can be inserted. Microchips can move around with time, so your vet will scan your dog’s body to ensure it’s not hiding in an odd location. Typically, however, microchips will last for a dog’s lifetime without the need to replace it. 

What are the alternatives to microchipping?

A traditional collar with an ID tag are the main alternatives to microchipping. The disadvantage is that a collar can be removed or snapped off if a dog is stuck and trying to escape. Branding and tattooing, while popular in other species ,such as horses, are not used in dogs. A GPS tracker can be used, but it can be removed or lost, and only you have access to the GPS information. A microchip can be scanned by most animal health organizations, making it a quick and easy way to reconnect you with your dog.

The Benefits of Microchipping your Dog

Dog microchips are safe, easy to insert, and last a long time. Every dog should be microchipped, and in some states, microchipping is mandatory with fines as penalties for owners who choose not to microchip their dogs. When a dog is microchipped and registered to you as a pet parent, it helps to prove the dog is yours, which can be helpful in custody disputes. 

Whilst a GPS tracker, collar, and ID tag can all be removed, the microchip is hidden safely under the skin. It is the last line of defense every dog owner should give their fur friend. If you’d like a more in-depth chat about how dog microchips work, remember our mobile vets are only too happy to help! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Do microchips for dogs hurt? 

Microchips are not painful once placed under the skin. It's like the prick of a vaccine, but otherwise, no pain is felt afterward. 

Can your dog have more than one microchip? 

Yes, if a dog has moved countries or if their previous chip became faulty ,they may have more than one microchip. 

Can dog microchips be seen on x-rays? 

Yes, a microchip can be seen on an X-ray, and it is one of the ways vets use to check that your dog’s microchip is still inside their body if it is no longer being picked up on the microchip scanner. The microchip company will often replace the microchip for free in these circumstances. 

Can a dog microchip be removed? 

In theory, yes, but it is very difficult to locate and remove such a small device surgically, and microchips move with time. Unless it is causing infection or pain, removal is not needed or recommended. 


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