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Microchipping your pet can bring them home

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Each year, more than 3 million cats and dogs are euthanized at U.S. animal shelters. Microchip technology improves the possibility that owned animals will find their way home. Microchips provide a permanent identification method for pets but should be scanned yearly while visiting your veterinarian.

A microchip is no larger than a grain of rice, and veterinarians can implant the chips into all kinds of pets. The device carries a number, and this number is plugged into a database that includes the name and contact information of a pet’s owner. A pet microchip uses radio frequency identification technology, RFID, as the name implies, uses radio waves as a medium to transmit information. This type of tag, dubbed a passive RFID tag, has no battery and no internal power source.

Rather, it is inserted in the animal, waiting to be read.

Because it has no internal power source, a microchip like this needs a reader or scanner to energize it. When energized, the microchip capsule sends radio signals back to the scanner with the identification number. The scanner can then interpret the radio waves and display the identification number on an LCD screen.

Before the vet does anything, he or she should use a microchip scanner to ensure the pet doesn’t already have an implant. If it does, that means the pet already has an owner.

Some pet owners are squeamish about the idea of a microchip implant. You might worry that it will be a painful procedure for the animal. But it’s not. The pet won’t suffer at all from the implantation—or at least as little as one might suffer from a routine shot. In dogs and cats, chips are usually inserted below the skin at the back of the neck between the shoulder blades on the dorsal midline. Pet owners who choose to microchip their animals agree that the benefits of a microchip far outweigh the temporary discomfort during implantation.

The microchip implant in your pet is useless if you don’t bother to register your contact information with an agency. When you register, you provide this identification number, as well as your contact information or your veterinarian’s contact information. When a shelter finds your pet, they use scanners to read the number and contact an agency that manages the database. The shelter then contacts you with the good news that your lost pet has been found.

It’s important you keep your contact information up-to-date in the database. Whenever you move or get a new phone number, you should notify the agency of the change.

In 2004, the Food and Drug Administration found the process to be safe for use. However, since the 1990s, there is evidence that microchips cause cancerous tumors in rats and mice. Some believe more research is needed for conclusive proof. Skeptics argue that the conclusive evidence only applies to rats and mice, and the same evidence has not shown up in pet populations.

Pet owners who choose to microchip their pets believe that the chance of the microchip causing cancer in a pet is miniscule compared to the benefits of pet recovery. It’s up to you to decide whether a pet microchip is right for your pet.

Karen Cunningham is president of the St. Lawrence Valley Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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