Why Microchipping Cats Works

Cat microchip scanner
Paul Wayne Wilson, Alamy

License tags have long been the standard means for identifying dogs. Cats, however, have never been big tag wearers. Outdoor cats tend to catch their collars (and tags) on tree branches and other things, so many collars are purposefully made to break away. That makes tags almost useless, as well as expensive to replace. Indoor cats tend to remain collarless because their owners assume they won't get out the door. That assumption is too often wrong, however.

A few owners at one time tattooed their cats with an identification number, as was done with dogs, but the process was stressful and not always successful in the awake cat. Even when it worked, the tattoo often blurred with age, and it was frequently as difficult to read the tattoo as it was to place it!

Now microchips have added a better option. Microchips are tiny radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips, about the size of a grain of rice. Your veterinarian implants the chip using what looks much like a big hypodermic needle. The chip is placed under the cat's skin on the back between the shoulder blades. Most cats do not even react during the process, which is much like getting a vaccination.

How Microchips Work

You must register the chip number with the company that makes the chip, so that if your cat is found, it can be traced back to you. The chip must be read using a special scanner, which most veterinarians and shelters own. At one time, scanners were chip-specific, with chips from different manufacturers requiring separate scanners, but now universal scanners can read all modern chip types. The scanner is passed over the cat's back and sides, and the chip, if present, will transmit the chip's identification number to the scanner. The rescuer then contacts the national database, which in turn contacts the cat's owner. It is believed that more than 600,000 pets have been reunited with their owners as a result of microchips. Not only are chips valuable for returning lost pets but for proving ownership.

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