Microchipping Your Cat

Microchipping is safe and effective.

Ozzy the Ocicat darted through the open door as you were bringing in groceries. He disappeared into the night and didn't return. If someone finds him, will they know he's yours?

Hazel the Himalayan turned into Houdini and slithered out of her harness during your routine walk. Now she's been missing for two days. Was she mistaken for a stray? Did she end up at a local vet hospital or animal shelter?

If you've ever lost a cat, you know how absolutely dreadful the experience is.

Millions of cats are lost every year and end up in shelters. The statistics associated with finding lost cats' owners aren't good. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), as few as 2% of lost cats are ever reunited with their families. When a cat is wearing some form of identification, the odds of finding the owners are better, but tags and collars can break, they can be removed by humans, and cats can get them off. In fact, it's safest if your cat wears a breakaway collar so she won't be choked if she gets it caught on something. So how can you increase your cat's odds of being returned to you if she gets lost?

The ASPCA states that, when used with a visible tag or collar, a microchip provides the most reliable means of recovering a lost pet.

How Microchips Work

A microchip is a radio-frequency identification (RFID) device that is about the size of a grain of rice. It has three parts: a small computer chip, some electronics, and a silicone capsule. The microchip is inserted under the cat's scruff (the loose skin between the shoulder blades) with a special needle and syringe. When it is activated by a handheld scanner, the chip emits an alphanumeric code that uniquely identifies the cat.

As soon as your cat's microchip is implanted, you need to register it with the chip's manufacturer. This step is critical. A microchip is not a tracking device. If your cat is ever lost and taken to a veterinary hospital, animal shelter, or another place that can scan her for a microchip, the code will come up on the scanner. The manufacturer's registry will then need to be contacted and the code given to them so they can look up your contact information. If you have failed to register the chip or keep your contact information current, the microchip will be of absolutely no help in reuniting you with your cat.

If you ever find a lost cat that isn't wearing tags, the best thing to do is call your local veterinarian or shelter to see if they can scan her for a microchip.

Uses and Benefits of Microchips

Today, microchips are used around the world as an efficient and safe way of identifying animals. Countries and municipalities are moving toward laws that make electronic identification of companion animals mandatory. This is already the case in Canada, Switzerland, Israel, and Japan. In the United States, microchips haven't gained popularity as quickly. Still, they have made possible the recovery of hundreds of thousands of lost or stolen pets since their introduction to the States in the mid-nineties. Many humane shelters across the country have begun implanting adoptees with microchips routinely. Fewer unidentified cats flooding into shelters means more room for needy felines awaiting new homes.

Microchips are an excellent means of identifying a cat in case of theft. They're also required, along with proof of vaccination, when importing cats to certain countries (e.g., moving with your kitty to England).

Some Benefits of Microchips Include:

So What's the Catch?

Microchips are a powerful identification tool, but they aren't free of concerns. Here are some of the potential drawbacks:

Stay tuned. As compatibility issues are resolved and new laws are enacted, microchip technology for cats is here to stay. For advice about microchips, including which, if any, chip format predominates in your area, it's always best to consult with your veterinarian.

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