Posted by Dr. Pamela Barker
CBC Radio recently aired the story of a dog named Rivers, who disappeared from his fenced backyard and was recently returned to his owner after being found in Calgary, Alberta. Not really headline material — until you learn that Rivers was lost four years ago. And that his owners live in Arkansas.
No one knows how or why this Labrador retriever found his way across the border. Does he have a passport? (Where would he keep it?) Rivers has not been forthcoming with the details; doubtless he’s holding out for a big cheque from one of the tabloids.
What we do know is this: Rivers is back home with his owner today because he happens to have a microchip.
Microchip technology has come a long way in recent years, and has become one of the best tools available for helping owners to keep their pets safe.
Other methods for identifying and tracking pets do exist, but they have their limitations. In many parts of Canada, a tattoo is placed on the inside of the right ear when an animal is spayed or neutered, allowing the pet to to be traced back to the clinic that originally performed the surgery. However, if the animal changes owners, or if the the owner moves, this may not be particularly helpful for identification. Tattoos can also fade or become illegible over time.
Collar identification is important too, but collars can easily be lost or removed. (If you do rely on collar ID, make sure to include an emergency contact, in case you have an accident and cannot be reached, or become separated from your pet while traveling.)
The microchip has two big advantages over both of these other forms of identification: it is permanent and unalterable. The chip is placed under the skin between the shoulder blades, via a simple procedure quite similar to a vaccination. When read by a scanner, the chip — which is no larger than a grain of rice — emits a unique number that is registered with the microchip company. If your pet goes missing, you can contact the company by telephone any time of day or night, 365 days a year.
Unlike a collar tag, a microchip cannot be lost. If your contact information changes, or if the pet is sold or given to someone else, all it takes is a quick call to the company to get the records updated immediately. Microchipping your pet also provides proof of ownership — an important advantage, since photographs and veterinary records aren’t always sufficient in cases where there’s is a legal dispute over custody of an animal.
When your pet is given a microchip, a collar tag comes along with it. If someone finds your lost dog or cat, the collar will alert them to the presence of a chip, and will include an identification number and a telephone number to call.
While a scanner is required to identify the presence of a microchip, these instruments have become increasingly affordable, and most veterinary clinics and animal shelters. can be expected to have one. Most of these facilities, moreover, will scan a pet for no charge. If you’ve brought in a stray, they can also lend a hand in contacting the microchip supplier and locating the rightful owner.
Having a microchip means that if your pet should ever end up in a shelter, the staff will have a much better chance of tracking you down and reuniting you with your lost companion. Veterinary clinic staff usually scan for a microchip immediately when dealing with an unidentified and injured animal. The presence of a microchip can prevent delays in much-needed treatments that legally require an owner’s permission.
Because microchips are so tiny, they can even be placed in reptiles, birds and a host of other exotic animals. Some organizations require a microchip for the registration of certain breeds of horses. And many performance events involving animals also require microchip identification.
For pet owners, a microchip can mean a lifetime of peace of mind. While not all lost-and-found pet stories are quite so dramatic as that of Rivers, microchipping certainly has made for many safe and happy reunions.
Dr. Pamela Barker is a professional veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience, currently practicing in 100 Mile House, B.C. Her special areas of interest include animal behaviour and training, nutrition and condition for canine athletes, and public education about animal health and care. If you’d like to suggest a topic for one of her future blog posts, please feel free to leave a comment below.