Every year, millions of pets around the world enter animal shelters as strays. Making sure your cat has a microchip is the best chance of ensuring they are reunited with you and your family if they go missing.
A study by Ohio State University found that of all the stray cats found at animal shelters, cats without microchips were reunited with their owners only 1.8% of the time. Compare this with cats with microchips, who returned home to their owners 38.5% of the time.
When microchipped pets aren’t reunited with their owners, it’s often a result of incorrect owner information in the registry database. So make sure you know your cat’s microchip identification number, and where and how to update their details when you need to.
What is a cat microchip and how does it work?
A cat microchip is a tiny electronic device, about the size of a grain of rice. It’s implanted just under the skin, between the shoulder blades at the back of your cat’s neck. When a lost or stray cat is found, animal shelters or veterinarians use a scanner to read the chip and retrieve the cat owner’s contact information.
Microchips use radio frequency identification (RFID) technology. When a scanner is passed over the implanted microchip, it emits a low-frequency radio wave that activates the microchip. The microchip then transmits its unique identification number back to the scanner, which is displayed on the screen. This identification number is linked to the owner’s contact details in a secure database, providing a way to identify and reunite the cat with its owner.
The importance of microchipping your cat
Microchipping your cat is crucial for several reasons. When you microchip your cat, it significantly increases their chances of being reunited with you if they go missing. Unlike collars and tags which can be lost or removed, a microchip is a permanent form of identification that stays with your cat for life. Microchips can be read by scanners worldwide, so you can identify your cat even if they wander far from home. This is beneficial for outdoor cats that roam or cats that move house with their owners and travel to the other side of the country or internationally.
In cases of pet theft or legal disputes over pet ownership, the unique identification number on the microchip which is linked to your contact details, provides reliable proof of ownership. If you are reuniting with your cat after an extended period, this is strong evidence you are their legal guardian.
Microchipping your cat is part of being a responsible pet owner, but in some jurisdictions it’s also a legal requirement. It’s a good idea to check with your local state, city, county or the relevant authorities for the requirements where you live.
Common misconceptions about cat microchips
Despite the clear benefits, there are still some misconceptions around this technology. Here are the most common reasons cat owners give for not getting their cats microchipped.
Microchipping is invasive and painful
It’s just not true. This is a minimally invasive procedure that causes little to no discomfort to your cat. The microchip is inserted under the skin using a small needle, similar to a routine vaccination. Your cat may feel some slight discomfort but it’s over in a matter of seconds. It can be done during a regular veterinary visit or when you spay or neuter your cat.
Microchipping is unnecessary for indoor cats
Even indoor cats can escape or get lost, when someone accidentally leaves a door or window open. Remember Jinxy, the Himalayan cat in the movie ‘Meet the Parents: Little Fockers’? Microchipping greatly increases the chances of being reunited with your cat, regardless of whether they are indoor or outdoor.
Concern that microchips have health risks
Microchips are ‘foreign bodies’, so there is a small risk of infection or a mild allergic reaction in some cats, but this isn’t common. There have been rare cases of cancerous tumours at the site of the implantation, however there are few documented cases and it is difficult to establish a direct link between this and cancer. Most veterinarians believe that the benefits of microchips far outweigh the possible risks. If you are concerned, talk with your veterinarian first.
Microchips can track a cat’s location
Microchips do not have GPS capabilities and cannot track your cat’s location. They only store your store your cat’s unique identification number which can be used to retrieve your contact details. Advancements in technology allow some chips to be linked to a cat’s medical records but this isn’t common yet.
Scanner technology in shelters doesn’t always work
Scanner technology is accurate most of the time, but no scanner on the market operates with 100% sensitivity. The effectiveness of the microchip scanning process can be influenced by various factors. Some shelters may lack ‘universal’ scanners capable of reading all types of microchips. Human error is also a possibility. Shelter employees must be trained in proper scanning techniques, ensure the scanner batteries are fully charged, and minimise interference with metal and electronic objects in the room when scanning a cat in a shelter environment.
They aren’t needed for cats with collars and ID tags
Collars and pet ID tags can be easily removed and some cats are skilled at slipping out of them, whereas a microchip is a permanent, implanted identification tag. Both are valuable in keeping your cat safe and increase your chances of being reunited if your cat is lost. If you have a cat who ventures outside, we recommend you microchip your cat and that they wear a collar and ID tag.
How much does it cost to microchip a cat?
The cost of microchipping your cat will vary depending on where you live and the veterinary clinic. The average cost ranges from US$25 to $50. Some animal shelters and rescue organisations offer subsidised or even free microchipping services as part of their adoption process. Considering the peace of mind it provides, we believe it’s a worthwhile investment.
Maintaining your cat’s microchip
Once you have microchipped your cat, there are a few things you need to do.
Register the microchip
After it is implanted, you need to register the microchip with your contact information. This ensures your cat’s identification number is linked to your details in a secure database.
When you adopt a cat from a shelter or rescue organisation, they will usually do this for you and provide the paperwork. If you didn’t receive or have misplaced the papers, ask your vet to scan your cat’s microchip for the number and keep it somewhere safe so that you can update the details when you need to.
Keep your contact information up to date
If your cat has a new owner, or you move house and your address, email or phone number has changed, it’s important that you update this information at the registry company holding your cat’s microchip details. There is usually an online form to fill in, or you may be able to subscribe to a yearly reminder email, which is what we do.
If you don’t know where your cat’s registration details are held, there are online databases where you can search your cat’s microchip details. Simply type in the registration number for your cat to find out which company holds that microchip number.
- Australia – go to the Pet Address website
- United States – go to Pet Microchip Lookup
- United Kingdom – go to the Check-a-Chip website.
Check your cat’s microchip is working
Your cat’s microchip should be scanned at your local veterinary clinic at least once a year. We usually do this when our cats see the vet for their annual wellness check-up and vaccinations. This is to make sure that the microchip is still in place and functioning correctly.
Our cats live indoors, but you never know when they might accidentally escape the safety of our home and wander off. For us, microchipping the cats gives us peace of mind.
Is your cat microchipped? Have you ever lost and been reunited with your cat, because they had a microchip?