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If your pet gets lost, a microchip can help bring it home. But what some pet owners don’t realize—or once knew, but forgot—is that the chip doesn’t do anything on its own. It just allows a vet or shelter to look up a number in a database. So you want to make sure that your contact information in that database is correct and up to date.
What does a pet’s microchip actually do?
While the idea of having a “microchip” sounds futuristic, the technology is very simple. There’s no GPS tracker involved, or anything like that. The American Veterinary Medical Association describes the tech like so:
The microchip itself does not have a battery—it is activated by a scanner that is passed over the area, and the radiowaves put out by the scanner activate the chip. The chip transmits the identification number to the scanner, which displays the number on the screen.
The idea is similar to putting your address on a tag on the pet’s collar, but unlike a tag, a chip will work even if they squirm out of their collar or leave home without it on. You should also give your pet a collar and a tag, though, because a neighbor who finds the pet can easily read your contact information from the tag. The only way to scan a microchip is to bring it to someone like a veterinarian, who has a special purpose scanner.
How to keep your pet’s microchip up to date
When you get a pet microchipped, or when you adopt a pet that has already had a microchip placed, you’ll be given some forms to fill out with your name, address, and other information. This information gets saved to a database. Then, when a vet or shelter worker scans the chip, they will be able to look up the associated contact information in the database.
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If you’ve moved since then, you’ll want to make sure you update your information. It can be good to set a reminder to do this once a year, either at your pet’s annual checkup, or on their birthday, or whenever makes sense to you. (Aug. 15 is National Check the Chip Day, if you’d like to use that date.) You can also ask your vet to scan the chip at a checkup to make sure that it’s still readable.
Does it matter which database my information is in?
There are many microchip databases out there, and unfortunately there isn’t a single, universal database that has everybody’s information. The AVMA says that the most important database to get your information into is the one maintained by your chip’s manufacturer. They also have a microchip lookup tool that will locate the appropriate database from the chip’s serial number.
It’s a good idea to keep a record somewhere of your pet’s number, since the only way to read the number off the chip is with a scanner. The chip probably came with the number on some paperwork, or you can ask your vet to scan your pet and tell you the number. If you aren’t sure where to update your information, plug the number into the AVMA’s tool to find the appropriate database.
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