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Healthy Paws: How Microchipping Can Help Lost Pets

Healthy Paws

Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic and winner of a 2017 Arlington Chamber of Commerce Best Business Award. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.

We recently had a microchip success story that highlights the amazing capabilities of this tiny device.

A stray cat who seemed very friendly and wanted to be let inside was brought into our office so he could be checked out to see if he was healthy to let him into the house, and lo and behold, we found that he was microchipped.

While the potential adopters were a bit disappointed, you can imagine the excitement when his original family was notified that their missing cat had been located, after eight weeks, no less.  In this case, the microchip was originally implanted in Great Britain, but we were still able to locate his owners, now based here in Northern Virginia.

Microchips are not a GPS or tracking device, but rather a RFID (radio-frequency identification) implant, each with their own unique code. There are no batteries, and they do not require power sources like a GPS.

When a microchip scanner is passed over the device, the microchip obtains enough power from the scanner itself to relay the number.  The microchip is implanted via a needle, administered similarly to a vaccine. The majority of pets tolerate this extremely well and anesthesia or sedation is not necessary.

We are often asked if the microchip contains all the owners’ information or if someone may be able to obtain their personal information from the chip; the answer is a definite no, as the microchip does not contain any of the owner’s personal information.

After obtaining the microchip number, the company associated with the chip (usually the same company that made the chip) can be determined through an online search and then contacted directly; they, in turn, will typically contact the owner whose information is associated with the chip.

If the chip was not registered by the owner, it still will tie back to the hospital or organization that originally implanted the chip and often they may be able to obtain the owner’s information from their records. This does, however, highlight the importance of registering the microchip so that current contact information is on file.

Many services offer microchip registration services, even if the microchip was not originally manufactured by them:

Some microchip companies even have additional benefits such as free phone calls to the ASPCA Poison Control line (normally a $65 charge), partial reimbursement for pet relocation and enhanced aid in helping to locate a missing pet such as email and social media blasts. The cost for yearly registration to get these added benefits varies depending on the company, but is around $20 or less.

A special note on cats — cats are often overlooked when it comes to microchipping because they are often “indoor-only.” However, they may be the most important pets to microchip, as if they get outside they can be more likely to get lost, and then presumed to be feral or stray.

Lastly, a note on foreign travel and microchipping:  if your pet will be traveling internationally, an ISO-compliant (International Standards Organization) microchip may be required, especially for travel to the EU and rabies-free countries such as Great Britain, England, Japan, Australia and even Hawaii.

This is typically a 15-digit number, though in some cases a non-15-digit chip may still be adequate but is the exception vs. the rule and often requires  you travel with a reader for your pet’s chip.  For some countries, the microchip needs to be in place prior to administration of the most recent rabies vaccine and/or blood work to measure rabies antibody titers. This is generally the case for travel to rabies-free countries and the European Union.

If international travel may be in your pet’s future, we recommend talking with your veterinarian about having a microchip implanted well in advance of anticipated travel.

As evidenced by the above story, clearly microchips can be an invaluable tool in helping lost pets find their way home.

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