The bond between any pet and its owner is irreplaceable, no matter how firmly your pet decides when they have had quite enough attention, thank you very much.
But they are also independent creatures by nature to a certain degree. Cats may roam, spending a few hours at any one time outside exploring. Even if they are house cats, you can’t guarantee that they won’t get out occasionally. In this case, you may think that a microchip cat flap is handy.
Dogs are seen as the more loyal pet, but even with that in mind, they can completely ignore you in the park and go running if they get a whiff of a burger van, or spot a small animal in the long grass. And, it is actually the law to get your dog microchipped.
If pets do get lost and can’t find their way home, then having a microchip as well as a collar or harness with an ID tag is a great way of ensuring whoever finds them can return them back to you safely.
What is a microchip?
A form of Radio Frequency Identification Device (RFID), a microchip can be scanned by a vet or shelter using a dedicated scanner, which will activate an ID number.
The vet or shelter will have access to a database that includes information about the microchip company to which the chip is registered. They will then be able to contact the company, which in turn will contact the registered owner and inform them that their pet has been found.
Your information will never be out there for all to see.
It is thought up to 70,000 pets are missing in the UK at any one time, and the majority are not microchipped
This means it is important to always keep your pet’s microchip details up to date. They can be accessed at any time by yourself and will need to be updated if you move house or change your phone number, email or ownership, or even if your vet changes.
Why your pet needs a microchip
Having a collar on your cat or dog is a great idea as if anyone finds them. A quick glance and check of their ID tag can tell the founder all they need to know without having to take them to the vet to be scanned. For cats, it could be particularly hard getting them to a vet.
But collars can become separated from your cat, either through their exploring or simply if they remove it through scratching or grooming. Many dogs run away from their owners on walks because they slip their collar or lead if they are scared of loud noise. It is no good if you are the one left holding your contact details.
Microchips are a great backup in this case, as they can be scanned for information. A microchip can’t be removed, and as long as details are kept up to date, there is nothing else to worry about.
Your cat may also need a microchip if you have a microchip cat flap or food bowl. While you can purchase collar tags that can open these too, a microchip will be more reliable.
How are microchips implanted?
Microchips are in a syringe, which is injected under the skin. It can’t be removed or lost. This is usually done between the shoulder blades, and it is no larger than a grain of rice.
Because they can’t easily move or get lost, they should last for your pet’s lifetime. This makes it a good option for anyone who doesn’t want to continuously pay every month for new tags.
Does microchipping hurt?
No more than an ordinary injection would, so it may hurt a little bit if they are younger but not enough to do them harm. Microchips are inserted into the loose skin around shoulder blades, so will be barely felt when placed either. There’s no need for local or general anaesthetic, so it is a very quick in-and-out procedure.
A microchip will not affect how your pet moves and will cause no pain throughout their life!
Is microchipping a legal requirement?
For dogs, yes. It is also a legal requirement for horses, donkeys and other similar animals. This is to prevent cruelty or abandonment.
But while it is not yet a legal requirement, cat microchipping is to be made mandatory. It was only previously mandatory if they were travelling under the Pet Travel Scheme where they were being taken abroad or being brought into the UK.
It is thought that 92% of dogs are now microchipped, and it has seen a huge rise in the efficiency of reuniting dogs with owners and reducing the burden on rehoming kennels and dog wardens. But as the Government website states:
“There are over 10.8 million pet cats in the UK, with as many as 2.8 million unchipped, meaning that it would be very difficult to reunite them with their owner if they get lost or stolen. Eight out of 10 stray cats coming into Cats Protection’s centres are not microchipped.”
If approved, owners could be fined if their cat was not chipped under the laws.
Microchipping other animals, such as small pets, is not mandatory and is also not common practice. However, pet parrots benefit from identification rings.
Pet theft and injury
Microchipping your pet is one of the easiest ways to prove your dog has been stolen. Dog theft is unfortunately on the rise, and as long as chip details are up to date, there’s every chance of a reunion.
The details on a microchip cannot be changed without the current registered owner’s agreement, so if somebody does try to change their details, you would be notified. This also works to prevent pets from being sold on.
On a more horrible note, if your cat were to be injured by a vehicle or even die when outside, a microchip could mean it is either easier to inform you if they are found or to let you know of the incident.
A campaign called Gizmo’s Legacy in 2019 called on local authorities to scan cats after road traffic accidents, so their owners are aware and can have some closure. Having a microchip could make this an easier process
When can I microchip my dog or cat?
A cat can usually be chipped from the age of eight to ten weeks old, or maybe even from five weeks depending on the breed.
Dogs can be microchipped from the age of seven or eight weeks, too. Puppies will find it most comfortable at this stage as opposed to any younger.
If you adopt a cat or dog, most are chipped by the centre before being available for adoption if this wasn’t already done. The centre may be on their microchip as a registered keeper, but their chip details must be registered in your name as soon as the adoption goes through. Many rescues will do this automatically when you rehome the dog but always check. Qualified breeders also need to ensure their pets are chipped before rehoming.
However, it is never too late to microchip your pet. Dogs can live until the age of 15, and cats over 20. So if it isn’t already done, it is vital you take them to the vet ASAP. Either way, it is vital to get this done by a registered microchip professional.
How much does a microchip cost?
The cost can vary at veterinary practices, but it should always be a one-off payment with no further cost to hold your details on record. You may have to pay to change their details through the microchip company if you change address or ownership at a later date, though.
Many charities and local shelters may offer the procedure for free, knowing that it could benefit both of you in the long run too. It is good to donate what you can to the charity if you do take them up on this offer.
Does microchipping prove ownership?
The person who primarily cares for the dog looks after them at home is called a ‘keeper’, not an ‘owner’.
The dog’s microchip must be registered to the ‘keeper’, who may not always be the owner. For instance, a greyhound who races is kept by a keeper and not necessarily an owner. A working dog in the security services or police has keepers, not owners.
This means this person has legal responsibility for the dog. They are held legally responsible if their dog causes an accident by straying or misbehaviour.
Don’t let this put you off though – keepership is technically just a term that encapsulates all dogs in the UK, whether they’re pets or working dogs. As long as it is your details on their chip records, you’re still going to be reunited if they are found.
How do I check microchip details?
When you get your pet microchipped, or you adopt them through a shelter, you should receive a certificate or email as confirmation, from the chip company. Then, just contact them anytime you want to double-check the details.
If you don’t know which microchip database they’re registered with, you can check at www.check-a-chip.co.uk.
How do I change my pet’s microchip details?
Again, get in contact with the microchip company that holds your pet’s information. You could be able to do this online, via phone or may need to fill out a postal form.
It will usually cost you between £6 and £20 to change and update microchip details. This is classed as an administration fee.
Some will charge this every time you change their details, and others will charge a fee so you can make as many changes as you need to. You may also be able to pay a subscription fee to make several changes. Always see how your chip database operates and which option is best for you.