The news headlines have been filled with amazing stories of cats being reunited with their owners after being missing for many years. You may have seen some of these stories. From 2017-Missing California Cat Found in Canada 4 Years Later. From 2017-Cat Missing 10 Years Reunion After California Wildfires. From 2018 Missing Cat Returns Home After 15 Years. All of these remarkable stories have one important common denominator that allowed these cats to be identified and returned. All of these lucky cats had been microchipped.
A microchip is a Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID). A microchip doesn’t require power and is activated by a scanning device passed over the cat’s body by a veterinarian or shelter staff worker. When the RFID scanner picks up the chip, the chip only provides a unique identification number that correlates to the chip’s manufacturer. That number is called into the pet recovery service, and the cat’s owner is contacted by the recovery service using the contact information on file.
As with all things, there are pros and cons to microchips, and it is up to the individual cat owner to do a risk/benefit analysis. Probably the greatest benefit of a microchip is that it is a relatively permanent form of identification for your cat. Unlike a collar and ID tag a microchip cannot fall off or become lost. In rare cases microchips can migrate from the injection area but with a thorough scanning can usually be located. This is why it is a good idea to ask your veterinarian to scan your cat on each visit, just to be sure the chip can still be located.
The microchip itself is the size of a grain of rice and is injected under the skin by a veterinarian, usually in the loose skin over the shoulder blades. The procedure is no more painful than giving an inoculation but some cat owners prefer to have it done while their cat is anesthetized for another procedure such as a neuter surgery or dental. Implanting a microchip takes only a few seconds, is inexpensive, and is meant to last your cat’s lifetime.
Because microchipping has become so common it is probably safe to say that most, if not all, animal shelters and veterinary hospitals have the scanners needed to check for microchips. If your cat is injured and taken to a veterinarian or picked up as a stray and brought to an animal shelter one of the first things likely to be done is to scan for a microchip.
Side effects of microchip placement are rarely reported. The British Small Animal Veterinary Association keeps track of reports of problems related to microchips. Since 1996, There have only been 391 adverse reactions reported, out of over 4 million microchip placements. The microchip migrating from its original site was the problem reported most often. More severe side effects, including tumors, were reported, but only in a handful of cases.
Microchips are not GPS devices that track your cat’s movements and location and microchips cannot compromise your personal information, but it is crucial that you keep your contact information current with the microchip registry. If you move or change your phone number be sure to contact the microchip registry and update your information.
The benefits of microchips for cats are reflected in the statistics. Less than 5% of all cats entering animal shelters as strays are returned to their owners. In a 2009 study cats who had been microchipped were found to be returned nineteen times as often as cats who don’t. (Yes, nineteen times as often.) Most of the time, cats who had microchips but were not returned did not have their current information registered. That means that owners either didn’t initially register when they had the microchip placed, or didn’t update their information when it changed.
It is still a great idea to invest in a collar ID tag for your cat. Collar ID tags are the first line of defense in locating and identifying a lost cat. For example, if a neighbour finds your lost cat, they are very unlikely to have a microchip scanner and will simply rely on the collar ID tag. However, microchipping cats is the second and in some ways most important line of defense for your cat. This is because microchipping ensures that your cat’s identification is never lost, stolen, removed or compromised.
Elizabeth Llewellyn is a feline welfare and behaviour specialist with over 20 years experience working with cats in a variety of settings including rescue, breeding, boarding, grooming and veterinary. She lives in Chittenden County Vermont with her three cats.