Do Microchips Have GPS?

Published: 8/31/2021

Microchips are an essential means of identification for our feline friends and canine compadres. Any pet parent will know how important it is to microchip their fur-baby, just in case they get lost and need to be identified. 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), only 22% of dogs at animal shelters without microchips are reunited with their pet parents. By comparison, 52% of microchipped dogs in shelters were returned to their pet parents. Stats such as these show how important microchips are to ensuring our pets' safety.

While microchips are useful, you may not be aware of how they function and help us identify our pets. For example, do microchips use GPS? Let's take a look.


What is a microchip?

A microchip is a tiny computer chip encased in glass that's injected under your pet's skin with a hypodermic needle, usually between your pet's shoulder blades. 

The microchip isn't battery-powered and activates when a scanner omitting a radio frequency is passed over it. When activated, the scanner will show your pet's ID number and the manufacturer of the microchip. Whoever scanned the chip can then enter the number into the manufacturer's registry to find the pet parent's contact details.

While a microchip is useful for tracking your pet, you shouldn't use it as your pet's main form of identification. Microchips can malfunction, so it's vital to place a collar with an ID tag on your pet as well.


Are microchips safe?

Because implanting a microchip involves injecting it into your pet's body, you might be concerned about potential health risks. Microchips are safe, and it's standard practice to microchip a pet. 

There have been reports of tumors developing at the microchip site; however, this side effect is incredibly rare, with only 1 or 2 reported cases. Usually, a microchip fuses with your pet's tissue within 24 hours. There's a small chance the microchip may shift, in which case it may need to be removed. 

Microchipping isn't painful, and the procedure doesn't require anesthesia. Usually, if your pet is being spayed or neutered, your vet will implant a microchip at the same time to avoid added stress.


How does a microchip track my pet?

A microchip does not contain a GPS. A microchip is more like a digital ID tag than it is a GPS tracker. A unique ID number is attached to each microchip.

If your pet is lost and taken to a vet or shelter, the staff will be able to scan the microchip to see the pet's ID number. Then, they can look up the ID number using the microchip manufacturer's online registry to find the pet parent's address and phone number.

A microchip doesn't contain your pet's medical records; however, some databases allow you to store medical records with the manufacturer.


Why don't microchips contain GPS?

There are 2 main reasons why microchips don't contain GPS trackers. It's simply a case of technological restraints. The best GPS trackers for pets on the market are around 3 or 4 inches long and weigh about an ounce. 

Conversely, a microchip is about as big as a grain of sand. A GPS tracker can be attached to a pet's collar, but it isn't small enough to be implanted under a pet's skin.

The second reason why microchips don't contain GPS trackers is that a GPS requires a battery. Batteries need to be charged or replaced and need to be a certain size to function for an extended period. Placing a battery under a pet's skin is very dangerous, and having to charge the GPS regularly is neither practical nor pet-friendly.


Do I need to do any maintenance on a microchip?

You don't usually have to do anything to maintain a microchip — they last for around 25 years. You just need to ensure the chip is registered and update your contact details if they change. 

If you move to a new house, you'll need to contact the manufacturer to let them know your new address. Ask your vet once a year to scan your pet's microchip to ensure it's still working. 

There used to be a greater issue with standardizing microchips. Different companies would use different frequencies on their scanners, which would make universal tracking difficult. 

Nowadays, microchips are usually ISO-standard (International Standards Organization). This system aims to standardize microchips so people can identify a pet even if it's in a different country.

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