Your cat may never leave the safety of your home. She may wear a collar with an ID tag. Even so, it’s a smart move to have your veterinarian implant a microchip, according to Emily McCobb, DVM, MS DACVAA, a clinical assistant professor at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine.
Even indoor-only cats who are not supposed to leave the house sometimes do get lost, after all. Someone might open your front door, and your four-legged family member may slip out. If a natural disaster strikes, that’s another way you can become separated. “In a tornado or hurricane, you can get separated from your pet,” says Dr. McCobb. “It certainly happened with hurricane Katrina. If that happens, it’s really nice to know your cat has been microchipped. You know that if your cat is ever lost, she can be tracked.”
Some cat rescues are dramatic. Willow, a Colorado cat, was found five years later in New York City. A near-blind cat, Jack Daniels, abducted from an animal shelter in San Francisco was found, again, in New York City, after a year and a half, and flown back home. Charles, a cat from New Mexico, was found in Chicago, and returned. Microchips identified each of them. “Cats have been reunited all over the country due to microchips,” says Dr. McCobb.
A painless procedure
The one-time procedure is simple and quick. “A veterinarian implants a microchip under the skin using a big needle,” says Dr. McCobb. “Cats tolerate it well. It’s like a vaccination.” It’s often done with a kitten who is being anesthetized for spaying or neutering, but can be done any time — even for an adult cat who is awake, for example.
You’ll purchase the microchip from your vet, who will implant it. The cost is modest — perhaps $25 for the microchip and the insertion. “It’s placed around the scruff on the back of the cat, under the skin,” explains Dr. McCobb. “It’s not attached, and can migrate, but that doesn’t cause a problem. It’s permanent, and can’t get separated from your cat.” The microchip, about the size of a grain of rice, doesn’t have a battery or any moving parts — it’s inactive until it gets a tiny bit of energy from a scanner — so it lasts for your cat’s lifetime. Indeed, they’re designed to last at least 25 years.
Side effects are very rare
Some people worry about side effects from the injection, but the risk is minimal, explains Dr. McCobb. While vaccinations can lead, in rare circumstances, to cancerous tumors in cats, there is only theoretical concern that this could happen with microchipping. “To my knowledge, this has never been proven to be the case,” says Dr. McCobb. “The risk of something happening from the microchip is much less than the risk of the cat being lost, especially if it goes outside.”
But getting your cat microchipped is only the first step. The second is even more important: registering the number online. Unless you register it, the microchip is almost useless. Says Dr. McCobb: “I can’t overstate the importance of the pet owner registering the chip in their name.”
Registering your cat’s chip
To make the microchip effective, you’ll register the number online, providing your contact information (include backup contact information of a friend or relative), and you may need to pay a fee (see “How to Register Your Microchip Online”).
Now you’re set. Every cat shelter or veterinarian’s office should have a universal scanner, which can identify any microchip from any company, and contact the owner. “A universal scanner picks up any of the brands of chips,” says Dr. McCobb. Even if one registry goes out of business, they’ll transfer their database to another company.
If you don’t register your pet’s microchip with a registry, the only way it can help is if the unregistered chip can be tracked back to the place where it was obtained, and if they’ve maintained independent records. Dr. McCobb recently identified a cat this way. A free-roaming cat was brought in to the spay-neuter clinic, scanned (“We always scan,” says Dr. McCobb), and an unregistered microchip was found, and traced back to the rescue shelter where the cat was adopted. “They found the people, who had moved across town — they’d been looking for their cat for a month.”
Once your microchip is registered, however, your cat can always be found, right away. “Any shelter that gets a cat will scan it, first thing, and your information will come up.”
A collar is important too
Even if your cat has a microchip and you’ve registered it online, it’s still a good idea to have a cat collar with your contact information on it. After all, not everyone knows about taking cats to shelters. “We recommend that everyone put a collar with an ID on their cat,” says Dr. McCobb. “A collar or tag quickly identifies the cat as being owned, and anyone can get in touch, not just someone with a scanner.” If your cat is lost, whether it’s microchipped or not, take action. “If your cat is lost, talk to the local animal control number, and put signs up.”
A microchip isn’t a GPS device — you can’t use it to actively locate a lost cat. But it travels with your cat wherever she goes, and lets anyone with a scanner find its owner. “It’s peace of mind,” says Dr. McCobb. “My pets are all microchipped. It’s a good thing to do for your cat.” — Bob Barnett