Although tags are the easiest solution for someone to see and read if they find your dog, collars can break or slip off and are not always enough. According to the American Humane Association, only 17% of lost dogs find their way back to their owners. 17%!!!!! Microchips and tattoos are more permanent solutions than ID tags and give your dog a much better chance of being returned to you if they end up in a shelter.
I recently received an email from a Shiba friend suggesting I write about microchips. She said: "I have been involved with several Shibas and 2 Schnauzers that were lost. I took them to a vet to check for a microchip. They all had one. However, when I contacted the number on the microchip it was outdated. … These dogs were all re-homed because no one thought to change the pertinent information."
I have had similar experiences working with NYC Shiba Rescue. Most of the dogs we receive are not chipped. We have also received many who were chipped, but the chips weren’t registered. One chip led us back to a pet store. They tried to contact the people who bought the dog from them, but the info they had was out of date.
Microchips are more permanent than collars, but what good is a microchip if you never associate any information with it or let that information get out of date? None whatsoever!!!
Moving is a hectic chore – so much to do, so little time. However, my guess is that when you have JUST moved to a new area is the time you are most likely to lose your dog. If your dog gets loose accidentally and runs, he won’t know where he is when he stops running and tries to go home. Nothing will smell or sound familiar and there is almost no chance that someone who recognizes him will spot him.
Please, please, please… when you get a new puppy, change vets, change phone numbers or move, update the personal information associated with your dog’s microchip. Also order new tags for your dogs collar ASAP.
How Microchips Work
A pet’s microchip is simply an RFID (radio frequency identification) chip. RFID chips are used for all sorts of things: tracking shipping palettes of merchandise, key cards for proximity locks, "tap & go" credit cards, and more. To identify pets and livestock, a passive (non-transmitting) RFID chip is put in glass capsule – about the size of a grain of rice – along with a tiny antenna and injected under the animal’s skin. Since it doesn’t actively transmit, no power supply is needed. A scanner is required to activate the chip, at which time it will briefly transmit its unique identification number via radio waves.
This, however, seems to be where people get confused about the value of a microchip. This unique ID number means absolutely nothing on its own. Just because a dog is chipped, it doesn’t mean the vet or shelter that scans your dog will magically know who he or she belongs to. Once the vet or shelter has the number from your pet’s chip, they can tell what type of chip it is and will contact the associated chip registry. The registry will look up the number and either provide the contact info to the caller or will attempt to call you themselves.
Chip Manufacturers and Registries
There are numerous microchip manufacturers, but there are three primary manufacturers of microchips for use in pets in the United States: Avid, HomeAgain, and Trovan.
The registry for Avid chips is PETtrac. PETtrac charges a one-time chip registration fee and registration is for the life of your pet. They charge a small fee for information changes. PETtrac only registers Avid chips in their database. PETtrac can be contacted by telephone at 800-336-2843 ext 4. They do not have an online registration option.
The registry for HomeAgain chips is… HomeAgain. HomeAgain charges a one-time chip registration fee (which is often included in the price you pay to have your pet chipped) and registration is for the life of your pet. They will register chips from any manufacturer in their database. HomeAgain can be contacted by telephone at 888-551-3903 or you can register and change information in their database through their website HomeAgain.com. Changes can be made for free for the life of your pet. (HomeAgain also sells additional services including 24/7 emergency medical telephone advice and lost pet emergency medical insurance as part of their annual membership. You do not have to pay for this to keep your chip registration active.)
There are two companies which sell and register Trovan chips. They both register chips from all other manufacturers also. They are InfoPET and AKC Companion Animal Recovery (AKC CAR). InfoPET charges a one time lifetime registration fee. Registrations and changes can be done by phone (952-890-2080 ext 100) or online (InfoPET). AKC CAR also charges a one time registration fee for life. Registrations and changes can be done by phone, fax, mail or on the AKC CAR website.
How I Choose to Identify My Dogs
My dogs are microchipped and have lightweight ID collars that they wear 24/7. These collars are separate from their walking collars and have their ID, rabies and other meaningful tags on them. I think a separate ID collar is very important. If your dog pulls against their walking collar and breaks it or pulls out of it, they could be running off and leaving their ID behind.
In addition to his rabies tag, city license tag and Delta Society tag, Snick has a stainless steel ID tag with my mobile phone number, the toll free PETtrac phone number and his Avid microchip number engraved on it. Snick’s microchip is Avid and has always been registered with PETtrac. Tonight, I also registered his chip with the HomeAgain registry (which was quick and easy online and only cost $15), since that seems to be the most popular and well-known registry.
I hope you will use more than one method to ID your pet and that one of them will be permanent. If you use a microchip, please make sure it is registered in at least one of the registries and that you keep the information up to date. And, most of all, try to keep your pet safely housed and leashed so none of this ID stuff ever matters!
UPDATE January 2013: Since writing this post, I’ve added Tagg Pet Tracker (GPS units) to my dogs’ collars as an additional way to keep them safe (by hopefully not losing them in the first place if they accidentally get loose).