Microchipping Your Cat. A Step-by-Step Guide

Introduction

A microchip is a small, rice-sized device that is implanted under a cat’s skin, typically between the shoulder blades. It contains a unique identification number that can be scanned to quickly identify a lost or stolen cat. Microchipping is an important way to increase the chances of reuniting lost pets with their owners.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 10 million pets are lost each year in the United States. Studies show that microchipped pets have much higher return-to-owner rates compared to unchipped pets. For example, one study found that microchipped cats were over 20 times more likely to be returned to their owners compared to unchipped cats (Source).

Microchipping provides permanent identification that stays with the cat for life. Unlike collars and tags which can fall off, microchips are implanted under the skin so they can’t get lost. The microchip ID can quickly be scanned at shelters, vet clinics and rescues across the country to identify the owner and reunite the cat if lost.

Microchip basics

A microchip is a small radio frequency identification device (RFID) that is implanted under a cat’s skin, usually between the shoulder blades. The microchip itself is quite small – around the size of a grain of rice – and is made of a biocompatible material like glass or plastic (1-2).

Inside the microchip is an identification number that is unique to that chip. This number cannot be altered. The microchip does not have a battery or any moving parts. It is activated when scanned by a microchip reader, which emits a low radio frequency signal (2). When the microchip is scanned, it transmits the identification number so it can be displayed on the reader’s screen (3). This allows shelters or veterinarians to access the owner’s contact information by looking up the identification number in a microchip registry database.

Some key things to know about microchips (4):

  • Passive device with no battery or moving parts
  • Activated only when scanned by microchip reader
  • Provides unalterable unique ID number
  • Tiny – about the size of a grain of rice
  • Often made of glass or plastic

This technology allows lost pets to be easily identified and reunited with their owners if they end up at a shelter or vet clinic. The microchip itself causes no discomfort for the pet.

Sources:

(1) https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/microchips-reunite-pets-families/microchipping-faq

(2) https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/how-do-dog-microchips-work/

(3) https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/how-microchip-can-keep-you-and-your-pet-together

(4) https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/pet-owners/petcare/microchips-reunite-pets-families/microchipping-faq

Microchipping Process

The process of microchipping a cat is quick and simple. Here is a step-by-step overview of what to expect during the procedure:

First, the vet or technician will scan the cat to ensure it does not already have a microchip. Then, they will prepare the microchip injector by loading the chip into the end of the syringe-like applicator.

The cat will be gently restrained to keep it still during the injection. The vet will part the fur at the base of the neck/shoulder blades to visualize the injection site. After cleaning the area, they will insert the needle and push the plunger to deposit the chip under the skin.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “The applicator trigger is squeezed, injecting the microchip into the tissue.” The process is often described as feeling similar to getting a vaccine shot for the cat.

Once the microchip is implanted, the vet will scan the area to verify the chip is functioning properly and can be detected. The cat may be observed for a short time to ensure no complications before being cleared to go home.

The microchipping procedure itself generally takes only a minute or two to complete. The entire appointment process usually lasts about 10-15 minutes for the cat.

Choosing a Microchip

When selecting a microchip for your cat, you’ll want to look for chips from reputable brands that meet key ISO standards. Some of the top microchip brands recommended for cats include:

These brands produce microchips that meet ISO 11784 and 11785 standards for radio frequency identification (RFID). These standards help ensure microchips can be read by scanners from different companies. This maximizes your chances of being reunited with your cat if they become lost and are scanned at a vet clinic or shelter.

Some other factors to consider when selecting a microchip include:

  • Chip size – a smaller chip (around 11mm) may be more comfortable for cats.
  • Needle gauge – a thinner needle makes insertion less painful.
  • Registration – choose a microchip brand that includes free registration and lifetime support.

Discuss the available options with your vet to select the right microchip for your cat’s needs.

Microchipping appointment

When you take your cat to the vet for microchipping, here is what you can expect during the appointment:

The vet will first confirm your cat’s identity by scanning for any existing microchips. This ensures no duplicate chips will be implanted. Next, they will weigh your cat and may perform a brief physical exam to check overall health.

For the actual microchipping process, a vet tech will likely secure your cat on a table. The microchip comes preloaded in a sterile syringe 1. The vet will then insert the needle quickly under the skin between the shoulder blades, deposit the chip, and withdraw the needle 2. The process only takes a few seconds and most cats barely react.

After implanting the microchip, the vet will scan to confirm it is working and record the unique identification number. You will receive a registration form to activate the chip in a database. The vet may also advise you on proper registration and how to update your contact details if they change.

Overall the microchipping appointment takes just 10-15 minutes. Your cat may be a bit sore where the needle punctured the skin, but serious complications are very rare. Just monitor the area for any swelling or infection. Within a day or two your cat should be completely recovered.

Aftercare

After the microchipping procedure, most cats recover quickly and have no issues. Some mild soreness or sensitivity may occur at the injection site, but this usually resolves within 24 hours (source). To help your cat heal, keep the area clean and dry for the first 24 hours – no baths during this time. You can also apply a cold compress to the injection site to help reduce inflammation. Avoid topical ointments unless recommended by your vet.

Your cat should be able to resume normal activity right after being microchipped. There is no required healing period. However, some vets recommend keeping your cat indoors and avoiding strenuous activity for the first 1-2 days. This includes no free running or dog parks, but leashed walks are fine. After the first couple days, your cat can return to its usual routine (source).

Most complications from microchipping are very rare. Signs of potential issues include infection, persistent pain, or migration of the chip. Contact your vet if you notice any abnormalities at the injection site or if your cat seems to be in distress following the procedure.

Registering the microchip

Once your cat has been microchipped, it’s crucial to register the microchip to store your contact information in a central database. This allows shelters, veterinarians and other authorities to identify your cat and contact you if your cat is ever lost or injured.

There are a few different microchip registration databases to choose from. Two of the largest companies are 24PetWatch and AKC Reunite. When getting your cat microchipped, ask your vet which registry they use so you can make sure to register in the right place.

According to the 24PetWatch blog, you can easily register your pet’s microchip on their customer portal online or by calling their pet registry specialists. Other registries likely have similar straightforward registration processes.

Once registered, make sure to keep your contact info up-to-date in the database so you can be reached if your cat ever goes missing. You may also want to register your cat’s microchip with multiple registries for extra precaution.

Updating information

It’s important to keep your cat’s microchip registration information current in case your cat gets lost. If you move or your contact information changes, be sure to update the microchip registry so you can be reached if your microchipped cat ends up at an animal shelter or vet’s office.

To update your information, you’ll need to know which company’s registry your cat’s microchip is registered with. This is usually the microchip manufacturer, such as Avid Identification Systems, AKC Reunite, or 24PetWatch. You can find the registry company by looking at your cat’s microchip paperwork from the vet or shelter.

Once you know the registry, visit their website and find the account update page. You’ll need your cat’s microchip number, which should be on the paperwork. Enter the microchip number along with your new contact details like address, phone number, and email. The update process is quick and free of charge.

Keeping your details current with the microchip registry ensures you can be contacted quickly if your lost cat turns up at a shelter or vet’s office. Be sure to update the info if you move or change phone numbers so you don’t miss being reunited with your cat.

Microchip scanning

Veterinarians and animal shelters use special microchip scanners to detect if a cat has a microchip implanted. The scanners emit a radio frequency that activates the microchip if it’s present, causing it to transmit its unique identification number back to the scanner.

To scan for a microchip, the scanner is passed slowly over the cat’s body from head to tail, holding it just above the skin. Multiple passes may be needed to ensure the scanner fully reads the pet’s body. The scanner will light up and/or beep when a microchip is detected, displaying the microchip’s ID number on its screen. Shelters and vets typically scan strays or newly arrived animals to identify lost pets and reunite them with owners.

Some tips for properly scanning a cat for a microchip include:1, 2

  • Hold the scanner parallel and barely touching or within an inch of the cat’s skin
  • Scan the entire body thoroughly from head to tail in overlapping passes
  • Scan both sides of the body and legs
  • Part the fur with your hand as needed if it’s thick
  • Go slow and scan closely around the neck/shoulders where chips are often implanted

Proper scanning technique helps ensure microchips are reliably detected so lost pets can be returned home.

Frequently asked questions

Many cat owners have common questions and concerns about microchipping their cats. Here are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions:

Is microchipping painful for my cat?

No. The microchip is inserted with a beveled needle that slips under the skin easily and quickly. Cats generally do not react at all to the insertion of the microchip (source: Everything You Should Know About Microchipping Cats).

Can microchips track my cat’s location?

No, microchips do not have GPS capabilities. They simply store an identification number that can be scanned if your cat is lost and found (source: Cat — Microchip FAQs — Bilmar Veterinary Services).

How long do microchips last in cats?

Microchips are designed to last the lifetime of a cat. The microchip itself does not have a battery or power source, so it will not stop working over time (source: Microchipping FAQ).

Are there any risks or side effects?

Microchipping is very safe for cats when done by a veterinarian. Risks are minimal and rare, but can include slight bleeding/bruising at the injection site or microchip migration under the skin. Serious issues are extremely uncommon (source: Microchipping FAQ).

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