Although it will never replace a dog license or identification tag for a cat, microchipping is another way to identify your companion animals.

Microchipping is a painless, reliable, hassle-free method of identification for companion animals. As simple as injecting a tiny chip into the skin between the shoulders of a cat or dog, the animal reacts as it would to any vaccination. When a hand-held scanner detects the implanted microchip, it beeps and displays a number. This number is registered with the microchip company and can be traced to an owner.The idea for microchip identification of animals came from Hannis L. Stoddard II, DVM in the early 1970s. Stoddard wanted a way to identify his exotic birds. He needed something permanent as birds live a long time. He did a patent search and discovered microchip technology. Stoddard then had engineer Mike Beigel make the chip for his birds.

The microchip is actually a miniature radio transponder encased in surgical glass. It is the size of a grain of uncooked rice. Each chip is programmed with a code of up to 16 digits. When a low-frequency radio signal is emitted by a hand-held scanner, the chip transmits the code to a computer receiver in the scanner and the code is displayed on a liquid crystal display (LCD). The scanner runs on standard AC power or batteries and looks much like a hair dryer. The chip has no internal power supply, no moving parts, will not "wear out" and remains inactive until the scanner is used.

The chip is implanted under the skin or into a muscle by a stainless-steel needle and causes no discomfort, unlike vaccinations, which by nature are reactive and may sting. In most animals the chip is injected between the shoulder blades because there is soft tissue in that spot and it is easy to access with the scanner.

The chip does not move and remains functional for up to 30 years. It can be implanted in several types of pets ranging from hamsters to birds. Because the chip can't be seen, it is safe from removal by other people. The number in each chip is unalterable and registered.

Diane Allevato of the Marin Humane Society is enthusiastic about the permanent nature of the chip. "Tattoos are impossible; they fade, they discolor and there are too many registries," she says. "The microchip requires no anesthetizing, is not deforming and can't be removed like tags."

The Marin Humane Society took the lead, micro-chip-ping their animals in tandem with adoption. Currently, several other humane societies in Canada and the United Sates (including the Humane Society of Utah) offer microchipping as part of their aduption package. Microchips may also be inserted by many veterinarians in this area; the process costs between $20 and $35.

All animals that enter animal shelters in this area are scanned for a possible microchip. As micro-chipping becomes more popular, many owners have been traced and reunited with a lost pet due to the technology.

The microchip is an excellent form of identification and a great investment for responsible owners. However, as with any new product, there exist some drawbacks. Many animals do not remain with the original owners. Some owners move often and fail to keep the microchip database up-to-date. Many people don't know that microchipping is available

Perhaps the biggest drawback is that a person who finds a stray animal may not know to check with a shelter scanner to see if the animal has a microchip. In addition, if the animal ends up at a veterinarian's office or a shelter where there is no scanner, the microchip is useless.

Despite these potential drawbacks, many owners and shelters believe that the added benefit of microchipping in animal identification is worth the risk. This additional form of identification could reunite an owner and a beloved pet when the tags fall off. If you are interested in microchipping, please contact your veterinarian.