Pet microchips effective but not foolproof

Microchips have become an increasingly common way to help identify dogs and cats that have wandered away from home.

The chips, about the size of a grain of rice, are implanted in an animal in much the same way a shot is given, said Inga Fricke, director shelter and rescue group services for the Humane Society of the United States.

Each microchip has an identification number that can be matched in a database with the owner’s name, address and phone number.

A scanner, which looks like a short, stout wand, is waved around the animal. If there’s a chip, the scanner should provide a number in a database that will be used to track down the owner.

The tracking system isn’t foolproof. Some scanners can’t read all the various types of chips that are manufactured. And there’s no single database into which all the identification information is registered. “So someone may have a chip they’ve registered but it may not show up in the database the veterinarian or shelter is looking at,” Fricke said.

And owners move or change phone numbers and don’t update the database.

For this reason, the Humane Society of the United States also recommends pets have collars and tags with identifying information.

“They should really go together,” Fricke said. If there’s only a microchip, that means anyone encountering a lost pet they don’t recognize wouldn’t know how get it back home, she said.

Pets wander for various reasons: just being energetic and curious, having more fun outside, raging hormones and July 4th firecrackers that frighten animals, Fricke said.

“They run and can’t find their way home,” she said.

Once lost, cats often hunker down in fear and won’t respond to calls, she said.

“The safest place for a pet, regardless of whether it’s a cat or dog, is safely indoors with you,” Fricke said.

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486;

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