1,300 miles in five years. That’s how far and how long Sasha, a fluffy black cat from Portland, Oregon, traveled before being reunited with his owner thanks to a microchip. He was eventually found wandering the streets of Santa Fe and brought to an animal shelter. There, the chip was scanned and his astounded owner was contacted. It’s an almost unbelievable story that had a happy ending thanks to a tiny little device that had been inserted under the cat’s skin years ago and probably forgotten.
What is a microchip?
A microchip is a radio-frequency identification transponder (RFID). It's a tiny bio-glass capsule about the size of a grain of rice that contains some electronic parts. The capsule is inserted by a veterinarian beneath a cat's skin, usually between the shoulder blades. It stores a unique number that belongs only to your cat. This unique number is stored in a registry database along with a pet-owner's contact information.
Note that the microchip device itself does not contain that contact information, so someone with a scanner cannot use it to gather personal information about you.
Microchips have no batteries or moving parts and they are designed to last for a pet’s lifetime.
How does a microchip help you find your lost cat?
The most important thing to note is that a microchip is not a GPS device, so a lost pet cannot be tracked.
If your cat goes missing, your best hope is that a Good Samaritan will bring him to a veterinary hospital or animal shelter. The shelter or hospital will move a scanner across the pet's skin. The microchip emits a radio frequency signal that is picked up by the scanner, revealing the pet's unique ID number and the microchip manufacturer. The microchip company is then called and, using that ID number which is associated with the pet owner's contact information in the database, the pet's family can be located.
How do I register my cat’s microchip?
Registering can usually be done online, by phone, or by mail. You will provide the unique number associated with your cat’s chip as well as your own contact information to the microchip registry.
In the U.S. there is, unfortunately, no centralized database for registering microchips.
Do microchips really help unite lost cats with their families?
Microchipping is the most effective way to have a lost pet returned to you. A 2009 Ohio State University study revealed in 3 out of 4 cases animal shelters were able to return lost pets to their owners if they were microchipped. For cats, the return-to-owner rate was 20 higher if the cat was microchipped. Another study suggested that cats without microchips were reunited with their family only 1.8% of the time, while cats with microchips went home 38.5% of the time.
HomeAgain, one of several microchip manufacturers, claims to have returned 1 million lost pets to their families.
Doesn’t a collar work as well as a microchip?
If a collar with tags has all the same information as a microchip, how is a microchip any more effective? Unfortunately, a collar with tags can become separated from a cat. Because a microchip is inserted beneath a cat's skin it can never be lost.
(For more information about cat collars, read, "Should I put a collar on my cat?")
Won’t microchipping hurt my cat?
A syringe is used to insert the glass capsule in the skin between the shoulder blades. It is a quick procedure that requires no anesthesia. It causes a pinch that is probably about as uncomfortable as having blood drawn.
Are there any potential side effects?
Fortunately there are almost no risks associated with microchipping your cat. Rarely, a microchip will migrate to another part of the cat's body. You should have your cat scanned periodically by your veterinarian during a regular office visit to confirm the microchip's location. If it does move, it is possible to have a second microchip inserted in the correct place. However, most veterinary hospitals and shelters will scan a pet’s entire body looking for the microchip if one is not found in the “proper” place.
What if I move?
If you move, you must update your contact information with the chip registry. Many services allow you to do this at no cost.
Can I microchip my kitten?
(Read this related post, "How to choose a kitten from a litter.")
How much does it cost to microchip a cat?
The price varies considerably, as does veterinary hospital policy. I contacted a number of veterinary hospitals around the country for this post and found a wide range of prices and considerations.
One large, nationwide mobile vet clinic that travels to various pet-store locations charges only $20 for the service. Meanwhile, a veterinary office in Florida that I reached out to charges $72 for the microchipping procedure and requires a $56 visit with an actual veterinarian for the service.
More typically, vets charge $50-60 to have the service provided by a vet tech or veterinary nurse (which is included in that cost). One clinic in Louisiana that I contacted charged $40 but required a $20 nurse consult for the service.
There are benefits to having your cat’s personal veterinary office perform the procedure because it helps to have the chip registration information in your pet’s file. It provides an extra layer of security should you forget the chip registry you used, or lose the chip’s unique identifier. But it’s definitely the kind of service you can price shop around for.
If I adopt a pet from a shelter, will it already be microchipped?
Some pets at the shelter were already microchipped by the family that relinquished them. And some shelters and rescue organizations microchip every pet they adopt out.
But if you are unsure, have your veterinarian scan for a microchip on your new family member during your cat’s first check up visit.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 Robinson, KiMi. “How Sasha the Lost Cat Found His Way Home after 5 Years and 1,300 Miles.” Azcentral, The Republic | Azcentral.com, 24 Nov. 2019, www.azcentral.com/story/entertainment/pets/2019/11/21/lost-portland-cat-sasha-found-in-new-mexico-reunited-with-owner/4253162002/.
 Ohio State University. Microchips Result In Higher Rate Of Return Of Shelter Animals To Owners, The Ohio State University, 2009, news.osu.edu/microchips-result-in-higher-rate-of-return-of-shelter-animals-to-owners/.
 Lord, Linda K., et al. “Characterization of Animals with Microchips Entering Animal Shelters.” Characterization of Animals with Microchips Entering Animal Shelters | Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association | Vol 235 , No 2, 2009, avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.235.2.160.