Cats need some form of identification, regardless of whether they’re indoor or indoor/outdoor cats. Even indoor cats can slip out the door and get lots, and wearing identification, whether it’s a collar and tag, or a microchip, can increase the chances of a lost cat being returned to its home.

A microchip is a small, electronic chip enclosed in a glass cylinder that is about the size of a grain of rice. The chip has a unique identifier which can be read by a scanner.

While most veterinarians and cat experts recommend microchips for all cats, there have been some recent concerns about microchips causing cancer. This article addresses the benefits and risks of microchips for your cat.

How microchips work

Microchips are implanted under the cat’s skin between the shoulders, using a hypodermic needle. The needle is slightly larger than a normal syringe, but the injection itself causes very little pain, and cats won’t require sedation for the procedure, which only takes a few seconds.

A microchip contains a unique id number, which is registered in a database. If a stray cat is turned in to a shelter or veterinary clinic, the cat will be scanned for a microchip. If the cat is chipped, the unique id can be traced back to the cat’s original owner.

You must register your cat’s microchip

Microchips only work if the cat’s guardian has registered the micrcochip. Once the cat is microchipped, guardians can register the chip id with the chip’s manufacturer. Some veterinary clinics will take care of the registration for you. There may be a small fee associated with registration.

Keeping your contact information updated with the microchip database is critical in the event that your cat gets lost. Outdated contact information is the most common reason why found cats can’t be reunited with their owners.

Problems with microchips

There are a number of potential problems with microchips. Chips can fail. Chips can also migrate, which means that they may move under the skin from the original location between the shoulder blades. Typically, migrating chips may move down the cat’s leg. This is not going to be painful for the cat, but if the cats gets lost, the shelter or clinic scanning for a chip may not discover it.

The biggest problem with microchips is that cat guardians don’t keep their contact information updated. Some microchip companies may charge a small fee each time you update your contact information, but that fee is well worth the peace of mind.

Do microchips cause cancer?

There have been a few articles circulating that link microchips to cancer in pets. It is important to understand that ANY injection has the potential to cause cancer in cats. These injection-site cancers are called fibrosarcomas. They are most often associated with inactive killed rabies or feline leukemia vaccines, or with multiple vaccines given at the same time, but they can also be caused by other injections such as steroids. The risk of a microchip causing cancer is most likely low, but we don’t really have enough data yet to know for sure.

To microchip, or not?

Although there is no guarantee that every shelter or veterinary clinic will always be able to read every chip, with the availability of universal scanners that can scan all manufacturer’s chips, and with increased awareness about the potential of chips to migrate, microchips are still the best way to increase the chances that a lost cat will be returned to his home.

If you have concerns about microchips, discuss them with your cat’s veterinarian. For most cat guardians, the benefits of microchips will outweigh any potential risks.

Allegra and Ruby are both microchipped, even though they never go outside.

Are your cats microchipped?

This article was previously published on Answers.com and is republished with permission.

31 Comments on Benefits and Risks of Microchipping Your Cat

  1. I’m considering taking my cat in to a vet clinic to get microchipped, because while she’s an indoor cat, I worry she might get out of the house at some point and have no idea how to get back. It’s good to know that the chip doesn’t cause any pain or discomfort for cats, and I’ll check with the vet to see if they do the registration for us. I’ll make sure to keep my information updated, as you suggest, so that our cat can always be returned home safely if she gets out.

  2. We are indoor cats, but our Mom had us chipped, because if we got picked up and taken to a shelter, she didn’t want us to be left there.

    She also has our wear collars and tags all the time, because we live in a rural area where not everybody bothers to scan cats for chips.

    She would give us a bulletproof vest and a concealed carry permit too, if she could.

    ~Tiger & Spottie

  3. Of course, with Sebastian’s story over at http://www.seabasscat.com, we know how critically important a microchip can be when there is fire in a home. And we think many people don’t realize that microchips aren’t “always on”. They only send out a signal when queried and “awakened” by a scanner.

    Sometimes not having the right knowledge can cause people to fear unnecessarily. Having a foreign body implanted is another matter, and we do understand the concerns there. But we agree, the risk is so very low and the benefits so high, that we completely support chipping pets. Although if we had to do it all over again, we would have waited to microchip Allie until she was sedated for her dental. We could tell the injection HURT.

    • I agree that the risks outweigh the benefits when it comes to chips. And I’m with you: even though it’s a very quick procedure, I can’t imagine that inserting such a big needle doesn’t hurt!

  4. My kitties are indoor only and micro chipped but I also have them clicker trained so I have an additional tool if ever I had to search for them. I hope I never do!
    To clicker train…buy a clicker at your pet store. Use the clicker every time you feed them or give them their favorite treat. Once trained to the clicker (two to four days!) all you need to do is reinforce the training each week or so. Cats are SMART!
    Mine will sit and stay and shake hands too but I just do that extra training for fun!

  5. We adopted our cats as kittens from the ASPCA 2.5 years ago. Our Molly had a skin irritation where the chip was implanted which took awhile to heal. She has had periodic itching and scratching in that area to the point of getting a bald spot. Same with our male cat. Our vet suspected a food allergy, chicken. They are now on an all meat and partial raw diet and yet both cats have periodic itching in their neck area. My male cat has to wear a bandana of sorts bc the fur has taken so long to grow back. We suspect maybe the microchips are causing the irritation and are considering removing them from both cats. The vet said that although he has not seen microchip problems with any of the cats he has treated, a microchip irritation would not be outside the realm of possibilities. Through process of elimination, we’ll eventually narrow down what causes them to periodically scratch theie necks raw. I wish ASPCA had given us the option of having the cats microchipped. They are indoor apt cats.

  6. I once found a cat huddled by the side of my house. He was obviously an indoor cat. When he saw me, he was so relieved he came to me instantly. I scooped him up and took him to the local vet. They scanned him and he had a chip.

    They called the number on the chip and Charlie’s parents didn’t even know he had gotten out.

    They were there within ten minutes to pick him up.

    The chip worked and it was a great day!

    • You bring up an excellent point, Caren: in the event of a natural disaster, microchips can make the difference between a cat being returned to his home or left at a shelter.

  7. Both Katie & Waffles have chips. Even though I’m super careful and neither cats are ever allowed outside without a leash or pet carrier, I know that accidents happen. In fact, when Katie was just a kitten, she slipped out when some groceries were being delivered. It was the middle of the winter and VERY cold. While unpacking the groceries, I noticed she wasn’t around. After a frantic search of the house (and my husband telling me she was just hiding or sleeping somewhere) I went outside. Standing in the cold and calling her name, I was shocked and relieved when little Katie came running towards me meowing away. I hate to think of what could have happened.

    So despite the risks, we are pro-microchip here.

  8. Ellie Mae couldn’t come home with me from the rescue unless she got a chip. It was part of the package when she was adopted. Ellie Mae is an indoor only cat but I had hoped she would wear a collar in case she got outside but she refuses her collar. Any tips on how to get a cat used to a collar? 🙂 She must have never worn one in her whole life. She was adopted at age 4 and a half.

    • Try starting very slow and for very short periods of time. Reward her if she tolerates the collar, and gradually increase the length of time you leave it on.

  9. Basically I think most of us are in favour of microchipping. There are advantages and disadvantages to most methods, but it has to be better than collars I think, however “fail-safe” those are.

    As regards cats getting lost – not everyone would be prepared to take a cat to a vet or rescue centre to find out if it is microchipped although I’d like to think most people would.

    We only have one of our (three) cats microchipped;’ she was four when she came to us and had already been done, but we never had a problem, thank goodness with any of them going missing, and the older they get the less inclined they are to wander.

    By and large – it has to be the best idea and I note your current two are microchipped even though they don’t go outside.

    Peace of mind for the owner has to be the best!

  10. Our human tells people about this all the time but we are not chipped! She says she doesn’t want to pack us all into a car and take us somewhere, and really, we don’t mind that–our vet comes to the house–but she tells us this year may be the year.

    But still, many shelters and rescues who chip pets as part of the adoption package now register the chip to the shelter, so even if new owners don’t update, the chip can at least be traced back to the shelter, which can research the adoption, but the more twists and turns the longer it takes to find an owner and there can be mistakes. There are very reliable free services if cost is an issue. At our TNR clinics we scan the whole cat while it’s still under anesthetic after spay/neuter surgery. For the number of chipped cats we’ve reunited with owners locally, it’s very well worth the effort!

  11. Only one of my cats is microchipped. He came to me microchipped when I adopted him. I have never had my other cats microchipped. I never really saw the need to do it because they are indoor cats. I have had one of them for over 10 years and the others 5 and 6 years. I guess I have been lucky that they have never escaped. I am always very careful. I have an enclosed front porch and always put them back in the house before I open the porch door to the outside. This article has made me think about it though. Like I have always told my children, nothing is 100%, so I know there is always a chance that at least one of them could get out at some point. I shudder to think of it though because after you go down my front steps it is only a couple feet to the road, which is busy almost 100% of the time. There have been issues with the traffic going too fast. It would be a miracle if any of my kitties survived if they ran into the road.

    Thank you very much for the information. I have learned so much from you!

  12. We microchipped our two indoor cats last year, and I’ve had one feral microchipped too. If had had known a few years ago that I could have gotten ALL of the ferals chipped, I would have done that. Hopefully, I’ll get the process completed when I’m able to trap them again for a complete physical workup by my veterinarian.

  13. Make sure to register your microchip! Many rescues chip their cats before adopting out and you need to call the company to update the chip with your information. Same goes for if you move -update your info! We found a cat near some abandoned homes after superstorm Sandy. We took her to a vet to scan for a microchip to find it registered to a humane society. When I called them with the chip number on hopes that they could tell me who adopted her, all they could tell me is that she was adopted in 2001 because their records had be destroyed in another hurricane. Perhaps her could have found her owners if they had registered the chip.

    • That’s one of the problems I highlight in the article, Tricia: chips can only work as well as the information that cat guardians provide and keep updated.

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