Molly has moved house, and her owner wants her to have a microchip implanted in case she wanders off. Microchipping is an easy way to permanently identify an animal with details including the owner’s name, address and contact phone numbers.
The chip itself is about the size of a grain of rice and is coated in a special material which enables it to stay below the skin without being rejected. It is implanted through a needle and does not need any anaesthetic. It is often done at about the same age as puppy or kitten vaccinations are given (8-12 weeks of age), but can be done at any age.
The number encoded in the microchip can be read using a simple hand-held scanner which is passed over the animal and bleeps when it detects a chip. Scanners are found in all vets surgeries and many cat and dog homes and police stations. If a stray or injured animal is brought in, it can be scanned within minutes. If a chip is present, two phone calls will allow the animal and owner to be reunited, saving a lot of heartache.
The needle containing the microchip can look like a syringe or can be shaped like a gun. Scanners also come in various shapes and sizes.
Before implanting a chip, the scanner is passed over Molly just to make sure she does not already have one. In this case it would have been a big surprise since she has only had one owner. The chip is normally sited between the cat’s shoulder blades, but very occasionally they can move, or migrate, beneath the skin, so it is worth checking the whole cat.
Molly is held by the scruff of the neck and the needle is used to place the chip beneath the skin. It takes only a few moments from start to finish. Most cats and dogs do not find it painful although a few will squeak or jump. Any discomfort is little more than that associated with any injection, and is soon forgotten.
With the needle withdrawn, the edges of the tiny hole are pressed together for a moment to help close it. Usually there is no bleeding from the site.
When the paperwork has been filled in, one copy is sent to a national database which holds all the details of microchipped pets. It is this database which will be telephoned to obtain the details when an animal needs to be identified. These details need to be updated if the address changes later.
Finally, the chip is scanned again just to check its location. There is a very small risk that it could come back out again, through the same hole it went in, so it is always a good idea to have the chip scanned again after a week or two. If it hasn’t moved in this time, it is very unlikely to in the future.
As well as helping to reunite lost or stolen pets with their owners, microchipping is also the first stage in the process of getting a PETS passport to allow an animal to travel abroad. At every step of this process the animal is scanned to check its identity.
Dogs and cats are not the only pets which can be microchipped, and many zoo animals and horses are also chipped. Dog owners should remember that their dog must, by law, wear a collar with identification whenever it is in a public place, whether it is also microchipped or not.
Molly has settled in well in her new home, and her owner has the reassurance of knowing that if she did go missing, she has every chance of being quickly identified and returned home.
If you are worried about any problems with your pet, talk to your vet or try our Interactive Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.