By Matthew Kearns, DVM

The bond between pet owner and pet is almost always immediate and lasts a lifetime. Conversely, the thought of losing a pet is terrible. Having one dog and three cats, I sometimes imagine how it would be if any of them were missing for days (or longer) and cringe. I then let out a sigh of relief realizing that since the advent of pet microchip identification, many a lost pet has been returned to their owner safe and sound.

As a matter of fact, microchips have become so common that two major veterinary associations (the American Animal Hospital Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association) have teamed up to celebrate Check the Chip Day annually on Aug. 15.

A microchip is an identification chip and does not contain a power source. Once inserted, the chip will not give off any energy that could be harmful to your pet. The chip is passive, or inert. What that means is, when the microchip scanner is waved over it, the chip receives energy similar to a radio antenna. The chip then gives the scanner back the energy in the way of data, or information.

Pet microchips are very small (about the size of a grain of rice) and can be injected under the skin without any anesthetic. I do not wish to imply that the pets that receive this injection do not feel the needle, but it is far from major surgery. At our hospital we offer to implant the chip at the time of spay or neuter (when the patient is already anesthetized) to reduce the anxiety and discomfort of the patient. These chips do not tend to migrate after implantation and rarely cause any discomfort.

Evidence that microchips cause cancer is not completely true and has been greatly exaggerated in the media and on the internet. It is true that these chips have been documented to cause a type of cancer called “injection site sarcoma” in lab mice and rats. However, these animals are very prone to this type of cancer when any material is injected under the skin. To this date there is only ONE documented case of cancer in a dog that was directly linked to the implantation of a microchip.

Concerns that microchips and microchip scanners are not as successful at identifying pets is outdated information. Currently, almost all microchip manufacturers follow the ISO (International Standards Organization) guidelines. The ISO has recommended a global microchip frequency standard that is consistent worldwide. Also, newer microchip scanners can scan at multiple frequencies to identify both ISO and non-ISO microchips.

A 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association noted 75 percent of dogs and 65 percent of cats that were turned over to shelters were able to be reunited with their owners via the microchip. Of those owners that were not reunited, 35 percent had disconnected phones and another 25 percent never returned phone calls from the shelter.

So let’s celebrate Check the Chip Day and not be afraid to microchip our pets. Also don’t forget to register the chip to your contact information after placement. Enjoy the end of the summer!

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office.