On every checklist of things to do when you adopt a cat, you’re likely to see “Get a microchip” as an essential step for pet owners.
It’s pretty standard advice. Most veterinarians, shelter workers, and other experts recommend microchips for all pets — so much so that many adopted pets will come with microchips that were inserted by the shelter or rescue organization they came from.
But what many pet owners don’t know is that getting a microchip for your pet is a medical procedure. And like any medical decision you make for your pet, you should know as much about it as possible before going ahead.
That’s where this article comes in. If you’ve ever had questions (Are there cat microchip side effects you should be concerned about? How much does a microchip cost?), this is the place for answers. Below, we have a complete guide to everything cat owners should know before getting their pets microchipped.
What Is a Microchip for Cats?
Let’s start with the basics. A microchip is a tiny radio frequency identification (RFID) chip that gets implanted under your pet’s skin to serve as a permanent ID tag.
RFID chips don’t require power, and don’t emit any kind of signal. How they work is that when a microchip scanner passes over one, it gives the chip just enough power to transmit the information it contains — usually an ID number and the name or phone number of a registry. It’s the same technology that’s in your credit or debit card.
A pet’s owner can use the microchip ID number to attach their contact information to the chip, via its registry. This doesn’t mean the owner’s contact information is actually on the chip — whoever scans it would have to contact the registry and give them the ID number to retrieve any contact information that’s associated with it.
A microchip is considered to be one of the best ways to increase the odds of being reunited with your pet if they ever get lost. According to one study, having a microchip greatly increased the odds of a lost cat being returned to its owner — less than 2 percent of cats without microchips were returned, while 38 percent of microchipped cats were returned home after getting lost.
How Is a Microchip Inserted?
Inserting a microchip is a medical procedure that needs to be performed by someone who’s trained to do it correctly. That usually means a veterinarian, a vet tech, or a trained worker at a shelter or rescue — it’s not something the average pet owner can do themselves.
Microchips generally come packaged inside an applicator, which is a bit like a syringe for a vaccine. The needle tip is inserted just under your pet’s skin on their back, in between their shoulder blades. The microchip is then pushed through the needle so that it sits in the soft tissue there. A pet microchip about the same size as a grain of rice.
Is It Dangerous to Have a Cat Microchip Inserted?
Inserting a microchip is a medical procedure that needs to be performed by a trained professional. But with that being said, it’s generally considered to be extremely safe. Your cat won’t need to be put under any anesthetic when having a microchip inserted. The needle might cause him or her some momentary pain, but it should be no more painful than a typical vaccine.
However, you may be wondering about cat microchip side effects. Since microchipping is a medical procedure, side effects can occur. Here’s what to watch out for.
Are There Any Cat Microchip Side Effects?
Side effects from microchips are fairly rare. Your cat may experience some soreness at the injection site, and it’s always possible for it to become infected, so keep an eye out for that for a week or so after your cat has his or her microchip inserted.
One of the most common cat microchip side effects is for the chip to migrate inside your cat’s body, either moving to a different area or sinking into muscle tissue. In either case, it may be difficult for a veterinarian or shelter worker to find and read the chip with a microchip scanner. For this reason, it’s important to have your cat’s microchip scanned at yearly vet checkups, just to make sure it’s still in the right place and readable.
One other very uncommon side effect is for a cat to grow a tumor at its injection site. This is very rare, but any time you notice a new lump or bump on your cat’s body, you should let your vet know and possibly schedule a checkup to make sure it isn’t something serious.
Are There Any Downsides to Getting Your Cat Microchipped?
Like most experts will tell you, getting your cat microchipped is a great idea. In fact, the benefits so far outweigh the risks that getting a microchip is something all responsible pet owners should do.
However, you should know that a microchip is just one tool you can use to keep your pet safe from getting lost. It should never be the only tool you use. As shown in the scientific study we mentioned above, microchips greatly increase the odds that your pet will be returned to you if he or she ever gets lost. But microchips aren’t perfect. They have limitations. Let’s look at some of those.
How Much Does It Cost to Microchip a Cat?
The cost to have a microchip inserted can vary by a lot, depending on when and where you have the procedure done. According to Petfinder, the average cost of having a veterinarian insert a microchip is around $45, which generally includes registration on the microchip company’s database.
Oftentimes, if you adopt your cat from a rescue organization or a shelter, the cost of microchipping will be included in your adoption fee, and the procedure will be done before you take your new pet home. Just be sure to read all your adoption paperwork carefully to find out how to update the microchip registry to reflect your contact information.
There are also charitable organizations and, oftentimes, shelter and rescue driven events that offer free microchipping to community pets. If you’d like to have your pet microchipped and can’t afford it, that’s a good option to look into.
Typically, the upfront cost of the microchip should be a one-time expense. However, there are some microchip companies that charge fees for updating the contact information in their registries. If your pet has this kind of microchip, you may incur more costs if you ever move or change your phone number, since you’ll then need to update the registry.
Microchip vs Pet Tracker: Which Is Better for My Cat?
Like we’ve said already in this article, a microchip is an important tool to have in your arsenal in case your cat ever goes missing. But you need more than that.
Here’s the biggest problem with microchips: They only work after your lost cat has been found, and even then, only if the person who found your cat takes it to a vet or shelter to have the microchip scanned. That’s a lot of “if’s.”
What a microchip won’t do is help you locate your cat while they’re lost. That’s why you need more than just a microchip. A collar and ID tag with your contact information can help protect your pet a little bit better, but again, only works if someone finds your lost cat. To ensure you can find your beloved pet when they’re lost, you need a pet tracker.
Pet trackers are common for dogs, but less so for cats. In fact, most of the most popular trackers on the market are too big and heavy for cats to wear comfortably. Plus, GPS pet trackers have serious drawbacks. They’re often expensive. Their batteries tend to drain quickly. And GPS devices emit radiation, which could be harmful to your cat, especially with constant exposure over a long time.