Worried about your furry friend going missing? Here’s the lowdown on microchipping

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Microchipping helps vets and animal shelters reunite you with your pets if they’re lost. (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Microchipping helps vets and animal shelters reunite you with your pets if they’re lost. (PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images)

Losing a beloved cat or dog is a pet owner’s nightmare and these days many people choose microchipping as a permanent, foolproof way to identify their pets should they go missing. But what does it entail – and are there any risks attached?

How it works

Microchips are an “electronic ID book” for your pet. A chip about the size of a grain of rice is injected under the skin in the neck area between the shoulders. “It doesn’t have to be done under anaesthetic,” says veterinarian Dr Ingrid de Wet of Ebervet Country Animal Clinic in Somerset West near Cape Town. “It’s a quick and easy procedure, no more painful than an ordinary injection.” The chip contains a unique code, which can be scanned and linked to the database of the microchip company where the owner’s details are registered. It’s up to the owner to keep their contact information updated.

How much does it cost?

Prices range, depending on where you have the microchipping done. Welfare organisations such as the SPCA charge R100 for a cat or dog. Vets’ prices range from R200 to R450. Find out whether there’s an annual fee associated with the microchip company you choose.

(PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images
Microchipping helps vets and animal shelters reunite you with your pets if they’re lost.(PHOTO: Getty Images/Gallo Images

Will it stay put?

Microchips have been known to migrate (stray) from the injection site, which makes them more difficult to locate with a scanner. It’s best to ask your vet to scan for the chip at least once a year to make sure it’s still where it should be. Generally, though, chips are a far better option than having a nametag on your pet’s collar, which can break or fall off.

Is there a risk of cancer?

There have been reports in recent years that microchips are linked to cancer. Is this something pet owners should be concerned about? “If you dig into the research, you’ll find that most of these reports were based on laboratory mice and rats and can’t be extrapolated to dogs and cats,” De Wet says.

“In the few cases that a dog or a cat did develop a tumour in the area of the microchip, it usually couldn’t be conclusively proven that the microchip was the cause. That being said, it’s a foreign object in the body and some animals’ bodies might react to it. “I’ve implanted microchips for the past 10 years and I’ve never seen an animal develop a tumour from it,” she adds.

“For any procedure we need to weigh up the risk-benefit ratio. In this case the risk of your pet developing cancer due to the microchip is extremely low and far smaller than the risk of you losing your pet because they weren’t microchipped.”

Chip checklist 

  • Not all microchips are created equal – make sure your microchip is ISO-registered to ensure it can be read by most microchip readers.
  • Be sure to budget for a microchip – as you would for vaccinations – when getting a puppy or kitten.
  • Ask your vet to check your microchip every year as sometimes they stop working or migrate out of position.
  • Make sure you keep your contact details updated with the microchip company.
  • Microchips are a requirement should you emigrate with your pet.