Microchipping: Is This Safe for My Cat?

Published: 02/24/2021
If you’ve just welcomed a new cat into your family, you might be wondering whether or not you should microchip your pet. Microchips provide a permanent form of ID for cats and dogs, ensuring that you and your kitty can be reunited if they ever become lost.

However, some pet parents are hesitant to have their cats microchipped because of concerns over potential health issues or that the procedure will cause unnecessary pain for their pet.

So are microchips safe for cats? Let’s take a closer look.

What is a microchip?

A microchip is a radio frequency identification (RFID) tag. Roughly the same size as a grain of rice, this miniscule chip can be implanted under the skin of dogs and cats. In cats, the device is injected into the tissue between the shoulder blades.

A microchip is essentially a permanent ID tag for your pet. However, it’s important to point out that a microchip is not a GPS tracking device. Microchips are passive rather than active devices, so they don’t transmit any information and they can’t be used by the government (or anyone else) to track your pet.

In fact, the microchip just sits there throughout your pet’s entire life, patiently waiting in case it needs to be called into action. And if your pet’s chip is scanned by a microchip scanner, it displays a unique identification number for your cat, which is in turn linked to the registration details you provide.

Why does my cat need a microchip?

Why would you want to spend money getting a microchip for your cat? What’s the point?

Well, microchips offer a number of benefits, but the most important is that they allow you and your kitty to be reunited if your fur-baby ever gets lost. 

If they’re found and taken to a vet clinic or animal shelter, staff can scan your pet for a microchip. If that chip is linked to your up-to-date contact details, the vet clinic or shelter staff can then start the process to return your cat to your loving arms.

A study from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association of 53 animal shelters across the US provides proof of the advantages of microchipping your pet. Sadly, less than 2% of lost cats that ended up in shelters were reunited with their families, but 38.5% of microchipped cats were able to be returned to their families — that’s a whopping difference of more than 2,000%. 

What about those microchipped cats that weren’t returned to their parents, we hear you ask? In the majority of cases, those felines couldn’t be returned home because their pet parents hadn’t provided their up-to-date contact information in the microchip registry database. 

And the benefits of microchips don’t stop there. Unlike ID tags and collars, microchips don’t fade or get damaged by curious kitties. Instead, they offer lifelong identification for your pet. They’re also quick and easy to implant, affordable, and reasonably non-invasive.

Are microchips safe for cats?

Despite the many benefits of microchipping your cat, some pet parents are concerned that microchips could be harmful to their fur-baby. Happily, there’s extremely little evidence to suggest that you have anything to worry about.

One common misgiving pet parents have is that the microchipping procedure will be painful for their cat. And while having a microchip injected with a hypodermic needle certainly won’t be any cat’s idea of a fun day out, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports that the procedure is no more painful than any other injection. While no anesthesia is necessary, you can opt to have your cat’s chip implanted while they’ve been anesthetized to be spayed or neutered.

Other commonly quoted fears are that a cat may have an adverse reaction to a microchip and that microchips cause cancer. As is always the case with these sorts of claims, it’s best to look at the statistics. 

Since 1996, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) has maintained a database of adverse reactions to microchips. Of the 4 million-plus animals that have been microchipped, less than 400 adverse reactions were reported — the most common of these was the chip moving from the site where it was implanted. Check out the AVMA’s detailed literature review of the benefits and risks of microchipping for more information.

As for the cancer claims, the AMVA reports that microchip-associated tumors have been reported in 2 cats and 2 dogs, but in at least 1 cat and 1 dog there was no evidence to directly link the tumor to the microchip. So while microchipping your cat isn’t completely risk-free, vets agree that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

My cat lives indoors — do they still need a microchip?

If your kitty is solely an indoor pet, you might be wondering whether it’s really worth getting them microchipped. Once again, the answer is yes.

There’s no way that you can ever be completely sure that you and your cat won’t be separated. For example, you might accidentally leave a door or window open, or fear might prompt your cat to dash out an open door when guests arrive. There’s also a risk of cat escape attempts if you take your feline on vacation with you or when you take them to a vet, and pet theft is another remote possibility.

So even if your cat is an indoor animal, it still makes good sense to get them microchipped, for your own peace of mind if nothing else.

Don’t forget about other forms of ID

Microchips have many benefits, but getting your cat microchipped isn’t a 100% guarantee that they’ll be identified if they get lost. There’s always a risk, however small, that your cat ends up being scanned by someone who doesn’t know how to use a microchip scanner properly. And if you don’t properly submit and maintain your registration details, you and your pet may not be able to be reunited.

That’s why it’s a good idea to invest in one or more other forms of ID for your pet, like ID tags or a personalized collar. In conjunction with a microchip, they offer an extra level of security. Of course, these items can also fall off, fade over time, and be damaged, which is why the permanent ID a microchip offers is such a worthwhile investment.

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