The Microchipping Debate. Do Cats Really Need It?

Introduction

Microchipping is a method of pet identification that involves implanting a small chip under a cat’s skin. The microchip contains a unique identification number that can be scanned to reveal the owner’s contact information if the cat is lost or found. Microchipping provides permanent identification for cats if they lose their collars and tags.

The microchipping process is quick, simple, and relatively painless. A vet or clinic uses a specialized syringe to inject the tiny microchip, about the size of a grain of rice, under the skin – usually between the cat’s shoulder blades. The microchip itself is a passive device and does not have a battery. Instead, it works through radio frequency identification (RFID). When scanned by a microchip reader, the chip transmits its unique ID number to the reader. This number can then be used to look up the cat’s registered information in a microchip registry database.

Overall, microchipping provides an effective way to identify cats if they become lost or separated from their owners. The permanent nature of the implants ensures the cat can still be identified even after losing tags or collars.

Benefits of Microchipping Cats

One of the main benefits of microchipping cats is that it helps identify lost cats and reunite them with their owners. According to the ASPCA, microchipping is one of the most effective forms of identification for cats if they become lost or stolen. When a microchipped cat ends up at an animal shelter or vet clinic, the microchip can be scanned to reveal the owner’s contact information 1. The shelter or clinic can then call the owner and arrange for the cat to be returned home.

Microchips provide permanent identification for cats. Unlike collars and tags which can fall off or be removed, a microchip is implanted under the cat’s skin and lasts for the cat’s lifetime. This provides reliable identification if a cat becomes lost years after being microchipped 2. As a result, microchipped lost cats have much higher rates of being reunited with their owners compared to unchipped cats.

Risks and Drawbacks

Overall, microchipping cats is considered very safe, but there are some potential risks and drawbacks to be aware of:

There is a small risk of the microchip migrating from the original implantation site. According to VieraVet, while rare, migration can make the microchip difficult to detect or scan.

Some cats may have an allergic reaction to the microchip or develop an infection at the implantation site, though this risk is very small. Signs of infection include redness, swelling, drainage, or oozing from the area, per Catster.

There is a tiny risk that improper scanning could damage tissue around the microchip. Veterinarians and shelter staff are trained on proper scanning techniques to avoid this.

While microchipping provides permanent ID, the owner must keep their contact info updated in the registry, or the chip is useless if the cat is lost. Some registries charge an annual fee to maintain info.

Microchip Effectiveness

Microchips have high success rates in returning lost pets to their owners. According to the AVMA, microchipping is one of the most effective forms of pet identification and over 90% of microchipped pets that enter shelters are reunited with their owners [1]. The microchip provides permanent identification that cannot fall off or be altered. As long as the registration information is kept up to date, shelters and veterinarians can quickly contact the owner if a lost microchipped pet is found.

While nothing can fully replace ID tags on a collar for daily identification, collars and tags can easily fall off or be removed. A microchip provides a backup layer of permanent identification if the collar is lost. The odds of recovering a lost pet are much higher with a microchip. One study found that microchipped dogs had a return to owner rate around 2-3 times higher than unchipped dogs [2].

Microchipping Procedure

The microchipping procedure for cats is quick and simple. The microchip itself is contained in a sterile applicator and is no larger than a grain of rice. To implant the chip, the vet or technician will first scan the cat to ensure no chip is already present. Then, they will inject the microchip under the loose skin between the cat’s shoulder blades using a specialized needle. The process takes just a few seconds and is not any more painful for the cat than a regular vaccination shot (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/microchipping-your-cat).

Once implanted, the microchip sits inertly under the cat’s skin. It requires no batteries or maintenance. The chip is specifically designed to be implanted in animals and does not cause any ongoing irritation or discomfort. The cat may experience brief soreness at the injection site that should resolve within a day or two. Proper implantation ensures the chip stays fixed in place and lasts for the cat’s entire lifespan (https://www.vieravet.com/services/cats/cat-microchip).

Microchip Registration

Registering a microchip is a crucial step after the microchipping procedure. According to Animal Humane Society, it is important to register the microchip information in a database so that the owner’s contact details can be retrieved if the pet goes missing. Without registration, the microchip is useless as a lost pet cannot be reunited with its owner.

There are many microchip registration databases available like PetLink, AKC Reunite, Avid Identification Systems and more. 24PetWatch recommends owners register the microchip number, their contact details, and pet information into the database provided by the microchip company. Registration only takes a few minutes and can be done online for free. Having complete and updated owner information in the database is key for reuniting lost pets.

In summary, registering the microchip is a quick and essential step to maximize its effectiveness as an identification tool. An unregistered microchip severely limits the chances of reuniting a lost pet with its owner.

Microchipping Costs

The average cost for cat owners to get their pet microchipped ranges from $25 to $70, according to sources like GoodRx[1], MetLife Pet Insurance[2], and A-Z Animals[3]. This cost depends on factors such as the vet clinic, geographical location, any additional fees charged by the vet, and discounts or deals offered. Many low-cost clinics and shelters offer microchipping services for free or at a reduced price. Major pet retailers like PetSmart also provide affordable packages for microchipping and registration, with prices ranging from $25 to $50.

Some key things that influence the cost of cat microchipping include:

  • Vet clinic fees – This is the main cost, with averages of $45 to $70.
  • Location – Prices may be higher in major metro areas.
  • Additional exam fees – Some vets charge for an office visit.
  • Discounts and deals – Some vets offer periodic discounts on microchipping.
  • Free services – Shelters and clinics often provide this for free.

While costs can vary, microchipping is generally an affordable one-time expense for cat owners that provides long-term benefits. With many low or no-cost options, pet owners can have the peace of mind of microchip identification and protection.

[1] https://www.goodrx.com/pet-health/cat/microchip-cost

[2] https://www.metlifepetinsurance.com/blog/pet-planning/how-much-does-it-cost-to-microchip-a-cat

[3] https://a-z-animals.com/blog/how-much-does-it-cost-to-microchip-your-cat-true-costs

Microchipping Laws

There are increasing regulations requiring cats be microchipped in many areas. In the UK, new legislation taking effect in June 2024 will require all cats older than 20 weeks to be microchipped1. This law applies to England, Wales and Scotland. Northern Ireland does not currently have plans for compulsory cat microchipping2.

In the United States, there are no federal laws requiring pet microchipping, and regulations vary by state and local jurisdiction3. However, an increasing number of cities and municipalities, such as Los Angeles and New York City, have enacted mandatory microchipping for cats and dogs.

Pet owners should research the specific microchipping regulations in their local area. While not yet universally required, proactively microchipping cats can facilitate quick reunion if a pet becomes lost and is taken to a shelter or veterinarian’s office.

Alternatives to Microchipping

While microchipping is a popular and effective way to identify lost cats, there are some alternatives pet owners can consider:

Collars and ID Tags: Collars with name tags are a simple way to provide basic identification information if a cat gets lost. The tag can list the owner’s name, phone number, address, and other details. However, collars can sometimes fall off or get removed. According to one source, “with a collar, he can slip out of it whereas the microchip is built in.” (savannahcatchat.com)

Tattoos: Some pet owners choose to get their cat tattooed with an ID number instead of using a microchip implant. The tattoo is applied to the inside of the ear or lip. While permanent, tattoos have some drawbacks. They can fade over time and can be difficult for shelters or vets to read if the cat struggles. They also do not contain as much information as a microchip.

GPS trackers: Attaching a GPS tracker to a cat’s collar allows owners to actively track their location in real-time. Some popular options are Whistle, Tractive, and Gibi trackers. However, GPS trackers have limitations on battery life and range. They also require recharging and a subscription service. According to one source, “the electronic microchip and the GPS chip for cats and dogs” both have pros and cons (weenect.com).

Ultimately, while collars, tattoos, and GPS trackers can be useful, a microchip is still considered the most reliable and permanent form of identification for cats if they become lost.

Conclusion

To summarize the key points, microchipping a cat can provide tremendous benefits in terms of ensuring the cat can be identified if lost and returned to its owner. The process is relatively quick, affordable, and low risk when performed properly by a veterinarian. However, microchips can migrate within a cat’s body or fail over time. Therefore, microchips alone should not be relied upon as a foolproof method of identification and reunion. While microchipping is recommended by most experts and required by law in certain areas, other methods like collar tags and tattooing can complement a microchip as additional layers of identification. Cat owners will need to weigh the pros and cons of microchipping for their individual circumstances. Yet for most cat owners, the potential benefits of microchipping cats outweigh the minimal risks and costs. Just be sure to keep your cat’s microchip registration details up-to-date so you don’t miss that call when your lost cat turns up.

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