Microchipping: Here's How and Why You Should Do It for Your Pet

A microchip may be about as small as a grain of rice, but it has a big impact on your pet's safety and health. It stores an identification number associated only with your pet—a number that veterinarians and shelter personnel can access. Here's why it's vital to use one and how to have it implanted for your pet.

Related: What You Need to Know About Pet DNA Kits

A collar isn't always enough.

A collar with a name tag and contact information is a good idea, but it's not foolproof. Collars can break and, over time, the information on the tag can become worn or unreadable, says Becky Krull, D.V.M., owner of Green Bay and Allouez Animal Hospitals. By comparison, a microchip is permanent and can't be separated from your pet. It also contains an ID number unique to your pet, giving veterinarians and shelters all the information they need about you and your animal.

A microchip provides definitive proof of ownership.

If your pet is lost or stolen, a microchip and its registration will identify you as the owner, says Krull. While a microchip's data might not hold up in a court case, it's certainly proof you own your pet when you retrieve him from the veterinarian or shelter that found him.

A microchip increases the chances your pet will be returned to you.

If your pet wanders from home, a microchip makes it more likely he will make it home again. Krull points to several studies that show "cats with microchips are 20 times more likely to be returned to their owner and chipped dogs are returned 2.5 more than unchipped dogs. That's a pretty significant difference," says Krull, "and with more than 10 million pets being lost each year, you want to do everything you can to ensure your pet finds its way back to your home."

Some microchips have added features you could use.

While some microchips provide only ownership and contact information, others have enhanced capabilities, such as the ability to program it to open your dog door only when your dog comes near. "This can be helpful in keeping out stray critters that may find their way into your home," says Krull. And some others offer other benefits, including "pet alerting services and even travel assistance for folks who like to take their pets along on their holiday," she explains.

If you'd like to get your pet microchipped, Krull says the best time to do it is during their spay or neuter procedure, when they're already under anesthesia. However, "the procedure is extremely easy and quite pain-free, so they [microchips] can really be inserted at any time," she explains. As part of the procedure, your veterinarian will insert a microchip pre-loaded into an applicator, similar to giving a pet a vaccine. "An injection with a large gauge needle is inserted just under the skin, in the subcutaneous layer, and the microchip is implanted there," she describes. During and after the insertion, your pet may experience mild pain and a scab may form at the injection site. This is normal, but speak to your veterinarian if you feel the pain is severe.