What is a Microchip & Why Your Dog Needs It

Technology is a truly amazing thing that has allowed us to experience our world in new and wonderful ways. It also allows us to keep our pets safer than ever before. Microchipping technology gives pets the best possible chance of being reunited with their owners should they become lost. 

It is estimated that around one in three pets will become lost at some point in their lifetime and without microchipping a vast percentage of them will never find their way home.

Microchipping your dog is quick, simple and highly effective. In this guide, we’ll take a look at exactly what they are, how they work, why they're important and more. 

So let’s get started. 

What Is A Microchip?

A microchip is an implant the size of a grain of rice, which is inserted under the pet’s skin to allow it to be identified. 

Dog microchips utilise Radio Frequency Identification Technology (RFID) to communicate information via a speciality scanner. RFID technology is widely used and something you use every day when you tap your credit or debit card to make a payment. 

Within each microchip, there is a unique chip identification number that links via a database to details including the pet’s description as well as the owner’s contact details. 

It’s somewhat akin to an ID card for your pet, only it is impossible to lose and automatically goes with your dog wherever they are. 

What Does A Microchip Do? 

When a lost dog is brought to a shelter, impound or veterinary clinic, a special scanner is used to read the details on the microchip. The frequency of the scanner energises the chip with electromagnetic power, ‘waking it up’ so it can communicate. 

As the scanner is passed over your dog's shoulder area it quickly picks up the necessary information to reunite the pet with its owner. It does this by reading the unique identification number of the chip which then appears on the scanner. 

How Long Do Microchips Last?

There are no batteries or moving parts to the microchip and they can remain inert, under your dog’s skin for their lifetime without needing replacing. This means you don't need to worry about expiry dates or having to reinsert another one at some stage in the future. 

When To Microchip A Dog 

Unless exempt, most states and territories in Australia require that microchipping is done before the dog is 12 weeks of age. 

Opting to microchip a puppy as early as possible ensures they are given the best measure of protection throughout their lives from being lost and unable to be reunited with their owners. 

How Are They Inserted? 

Injected under the skin using a special needle, the microchip is usually placed between the dog’s shoulder blades. It is a simple procedure that can be performed in your Vet’s rooms during a standard consultation - it takes less than 5 minutes to complete. 

There is minimal discomfort for your dog and the injection site usually heals without any concerns at all. You can always keep some treats handy to reward your puppy post-insertion but we promise you they forget about it almost immediately!

What Information Do Microchips Contain? 

Contrary to what many people believe, microchips do not contain any personal information regarding the owner. 

There is zero need to be concerned regarding your details being improperly accessed via your dog's microchip. They cannot be read by a smartphone and the database is not publicly available. 

So how do they match lost dogs to their owners? Through a check of the dog’s microchip number. 

Each microchip has a unique identifying number around 15 characters long which is then checked against one or more databases where the owner details are stored. The details accessed will include the phone number and usual residential address for the dog. 

How Effective Are Microchips? 

Microchips are very effective at helping lost dogs find their owners. However, they are only effective if the details linked to the microchip are kept up to date. 

If an owner moves house or changes their phone number and fails to update this information on the database, then the microchip can become virtually useless. 

Just as you update your licence, Medicare and banking details when you move, your dog’s microchip information needs to be done as a priority also. 

Equally, should your dog be rehomed at any stage, you must formally transfer ownership and make sure you renew the contact details to reflect the new owner's information.

What Does It Cost To Microchip A Dog?

The cost for microchipping of a dog is most often covered within the initial purchase price of the dog itself. Should you need to arrange this yourself, you can expect to pay somewhere between $50-$80 - your local vet will be able to give you more accurate pricing information. 

It is important to note here that the insertion of a microchip should only ever be done by a vet or qualified carer. 

There are several different laws regarding microchips and this includes governance on who is allowed to insert them. This is in part to ensure the safety of the dog but also that they are properly placed and of the correct frequency. 

If you are unsure if your dog is microchipped or cannot afford to microchip them, we encourage you to speak with your vet or local office of the RSPCA who will do their best to assist you in getting this resolved. 

Can The Chip Fall Out? 

No, unlike name tags which can fall off a dog's collar or become damaged and illegible, microchips remain safely under the skim.

Can they move under the skin? Rarely. One major study showed that in a review of 3.7 million microchipped pets migration occurred in less than one out of 10,000 cases. Failure of the microchip - as in failure to respond to the scanner and being unable to be read, is even less common. 

This is part of why microchipping is so worthwhile and one of the best ways to keep your pet connected to you no matter where they roam. 

Do I Need To Microchip My Dog?

Microchips play an important role in locating a pet's owner if it becomes lost or is dropped off at an animal shelter.

Microchips can also be used to match vaccination records to keep track of what immunisations the pet has had. This is especially helpful for dogs who may be rehomed as it provides insights into their medical history. 

In most states and territories in Australia, it is the legal obligation of a pet owner to ensure their pet is microchipped. 

Failure to microchip your dog by the indicated age of 12 weeks can see owners incur penalties of up to $880 or as high as $5500 for restricted breeds or dogs that have been declared as dangerous. 

What if your dog is not microchipped and goes missing? If they are collected by a shelter, animal welfare organisation, the pound or even a vet they are legally obligated to microchip your dog before returning it to you. That's assuming they can locate you without the important information a microchip contains. 

Are There Any Negatives To Microchipping Dogs? 

As vets, we would say no, not really! They are the single most effective way to ensure a dog is matched with its owner and reunited should it go missing. 

In some countries, such as the USA, different chips have different frequencies and this can lead to missed chip readings, making owners less confident in their success. However, in Australia 134.2khz chips are used virtually across the board so missed chips are very uncommon. 

One aspect that many dog owners view as negative is that the chip does not allow for tracking. 

There are no GPS-type capabilities in a microchip so it is not possible to work out where your dog is via the chip or even its location once scanned. You will need to wait to be called - so make sure your number is up to date in the database!

Updating Your Dogs Microchip Details

Depending on the state or territory you reside in, there is a formal process for both registering yourself as the pet's owner and updating microchip details. 

Initially, the microchip details will be entered by the veterinarian who performed the microchipping procedure as part of the registration of the microchip. After the initial entry, the owner is responsible for all necessary updates. 

Currently, there are 5 private microchip registries and 2 state government registries (SA and NSW) these are:

  1. Australasian Animal Registry
  2. Central Animal Records
  3. Petsafe
  4. HomeSafeID
  5. Global Micro
  6. NSW Government registry – the NSW Companion Animal Registry
  7. SA Government registry – Dogs and Cats Online (DACO)

In most cases, it is a quick and easy process to update your dog’s microchip information online and there is no fee associated with doing this. 

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