Understanding microchips and “add on” microchip services

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As explained in an earlier post, it is a wise decision to have your pet microchipped. For example, microchips for dogs and cats help them make it home safe in the event they are lost. But sometimes microchip services can be confusing, and made even more confusing by certain tactics by the microchip manufacturers. This article discusses what microchips are, how they are scanned, and whether you need to subscribe to the “add on” services offered by some microchip companies.

About microchips

First of all, a microchip is a small RFID device that is implanted just beneath the skin. It’s a little bit like a barcode: when the microchip is scanned, an identifier is revealed that can be used to look up the pet’s home address and phone number. This is why it is so important to update the information with the microchip company right before you move.

There are many different microchip companies (such as AVID and HomeAgain), and when you adopt a dog or cat, he or she will usually already have a microchip with one of those companies. There are four different types of microchips used by a number of microchip companies, which are either proprietary or conform to an international standard. This is one place where things can get complicated: if you have more than one pet, it means you can end up registered with several different companies. Also, the scanner that is used to look for a microchip needs to understand the “barcode” if you are in the USA – some scanners used by your local shelter may not work with the microchip implanted in your pet. According to Wikipedia:

In the US, however, three proprietary types of chips compete along with the international standard. Scanners distributed to US shelters and vets well into 2006 could each read at most three of the four types. Scanners with quad-read capability are now available and are increasingly considered required equipment. Older scanner models will be in use for some time so US pet owners must still choose between a chip with good coverage by existing scanners and one compatible with the international standard.

To learn more about microchips in general, you can refer to this page on Wikipedia.

What is this subscription I keep getting emailed about

So you might receive advertisements to subscribe to a service that your microchip company offers. Many, such as this email from HomeAgain, seem to imply that you need to pay a recurring fee to keep your microchip active.
homeagain Understanding microchips and add on microchip services

Please read the fine print! In this case (mentioned in a note at the very bottom of the page, after the message is signed off), and I suspect with other companies, your microchip will always carry your information for the life of the pet. You do not need to pay for a subscription just to keep your pet in their record books. In this offer, from HomeAgain, it is an extra “add on” service where they provide assistance in the event your pet is lost. It does not seem this way until the very bottom of the page, however.

I urge you to read the fine print to make sure you understand what these subscriptions are for. Again, in this case from HomeAgain, you do not need to pay additional fees to keep your address on file – the subscription service is for additional services that they offer.

What if I need that service?

By all means use this service if you feel it will help reunite with your pet in the event he or she is lost. And for this or any other that a company may offer, you may want to shop around because there are several companies that offer assistance for lost pets and many other services that are offered like this. Read the fine print, research, compare prices, and see what works best for you and your pet.

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About Author

Jen deHaan is graphic designer, small business owner, and dog person living in Bay Area, California. She likes to support local and national efforts for animal welfare and advocacy. Jen enjoys learning about dog training and behavior, and has taken several courses and seminars since 2010. It all started with a great dog called Mikey (aka "dude"), loved and lost but remembered forever. Jen also runs a freelance business focusing on graphic, web, and UI design at FoundPixel, and a small business creating hand crafted dog products at Stylish Canine.