Guest post by Loren Brutsch

One in three pets go missing in their lifetime. Over 10 million pets go missing every year. Sadly, many are not reunited with their guardians. In addition to the heartache caused by a lost pet, it can cost hundreds of dollars even when a pet is found. This is why an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Is a microchip enough?

GPS trackers let you locate your pet on demand and monitor and record his activity on a smart phone or computer via an app. Some believe that a GPS tracker is overkill when their pet already has a microchip, but this is a misperception based on not fully understanding how these two technologies differ. To ensure a pet’s safety, it’s important to know the risks and benefits of the technologies available so that an informed decision can be made based on what’s best for the guardian and his or her pet.

Benefits and limitations of microchips

Microchips are convenient because they are as small as a grain of rice and have no power requirements and therefore can be inserted into the animal’s scruff without issue. However, the convenience of a microchip often falls short the day a pet goes missing. The major flaw with the microchip is its reliance on the animal being found.

The device uses RFID technology (Radio-Frequency Identification) and needs to be scanned in order to extract the unique microchip number. This unique number then needs to be registered along with current contact information. Unfortunately, it is quite common that registration is not completed or the information is out of date, which often results in the animal not being reunited with its family. This means that a microchip is useless unless the pet is found and taken to a location that can scan the chip.

Microchips don’t help locate a pet, they only help identify it –and this important distinction has meant the permanent loss of many an animal. Microchipping is essential, but it is only one tool.

Benefits and limitations of GPS units

GPS (Global Positioning System) units cover three main categories, all of which differ slightly and therefore have their own benefits as well as limitations. The first category of GPS units is the GPS recorder. Recorders are small, lightweight units that offer post activity map based tracking, which means you have to wait for the animal and unit to return before being able to upload its data and see where the animal has been. While they can be fun by giving the owner the ability to see what his or her pet gets up to during the day, as well as beneficial by letting the owner monitor a pet’s health habits, the GPS recorder cannot locate a pet in real time. In this repect, it is no better than a microchip when a pet isn’t found.

The second category of GPS is the Real-Time Near Field GPS unit, which is another small, lightweight unit that offers global positioning by transmitting a location signal to a mobile device through Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Real-Time Near Field GPS units are definitely a step up from microchips and recorders because they allow the owner to take a proactive approach to finding a missing pet by offering range positioning and perimeter alerts. However, distance is a limitation. These units cannot broadcast a real-time location unless in range of a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi device. What this means is that the unit has to come within about 30 meters, or 100 feet, of a mobile device to be able to recognise the unit and broadcast the pet’s location. If the animal is out of range or if buildings interrupt the signal, the animal cannot be located.

Real-Time Global GPS

The most comprehensive option within the categories of GPS units is the Real-Time Global GPS unit. These units offer global positioning and unlimited range. Due to an internal SIM card, they are able to broadcast their own location, allowing the user to find their pet anywhere at anytime. These units offer the most reliable way to recover a lost pet, however, they are also larger and heavier than the other technologies. That said, there have been some breakthroughs in unit size. The smallest Real-Time Global GPS unit, Pod, is about the same size as a wine cork.

Ultimately, a combination of Microchipping and comprehensive GPS location technology is your best bet. And don’t wait for the day when the chip can have GPS location ability – that day is likely a long way off because of battery and antenna issues that make an external GPS unit essential.

24 Comments on Keeping Track of Your Cat: GPS vs. Microchip Technology

  1. Does anyone know where I can find a veterinarian to install the real time GPS in my cat. I’ve called many and I cannot find one. I live I’m Pinellas county Florida.

    • Are you asking about a microchip, DJ? They can help identify a lost cat, but they’re not GPS trackers. The GPS trackers for pets that are currently available are collar tags.

  2. Does anyone have solutions for keeping a cat safe on a balcony patio, she refuses to wear a harness, it’s a total battle to get one on her so looking for ideas to allow her outside time but keep her safe.

      • Home Depot sells a dog kennel (made by AKC. It’s fully enclosed, roof included and measures 8’long, 4’wide, 6’tall. Best of all, you can easily assemble on your own in less than 30mins.. I have one for my Bengal. He stays safe, loves it and cannot get into any trouble while in it. It cost $300 for that size but they do make smaller units too. Money well spent to keep them safe… Good luck.

  3. The problem with gps is the way it burns through batteries. If you do the research, you will find that most burn through a button battery in 2-4 days. Transmittal to low orbit satellites take a tremendous amount of power.

    To make gps affordable, you need a rechargeable battery (usually lithium ion). So installing a subdermal gps device would mean leaving an open socket penetrating the skin for battery replacement (or plugging your cat into a wall or usb socket). Or you could go really sci fi and connect the chip to the brain stem to run of the electrical currents of the brain and body.

    Personally, neither of these options appeal to me. I’ll wait until they develop an extended life microbattery for sub deal gps.

  4. After searching for a while I bought a Miaufinder system, it has no subscriptions and uses RF technology. I found that the RF types are much more accurate than the GPS trackers and don’t weigh much in comparison.
    Have a look at Miaufinder if you’re looking for an alternative.

  5. I had one of my Siamese cats stolen eighteen months ago she was chipped but unless vets are vigilant in scanning cats unregistered at there practice then chips are a waste of time. It’s devastating loosing any pet and you never stop wondering where they are and how they are being cared for.

    • Exactly… I’m pretty sure my pet was taken to the pound because he hadn’t been neutered yet. I had just done the microchip and had an appointment for him to be fixed the next week I mean that stuff is expensive! It was a waste of money because it didn’t help… I never got one call. My bet? I’m betting that he got euthanized because he was an unsterile orange tabby and those are so rampant in our area supposedly. Someone probably had him taken straight to the pound and told them to put him down and that’s what they did without even bothering to check if he had a microchip. My biggest pet peeve is when people can’t do their job properly and this is a perfect example… Poor COI had a loving family and a good home yet most likely he got put down because the vet decided he didn’t want to take the two seconds it took to go get the scanning machine. Then again who knows maybe he’ll come home soon but it’s already been 6 months and I’ve not gotten a phone call.

    • And I forgot to mention that this is the second cat in the last two years that has disappeared the same way…. Both right at Christmas time, one on Christmas Day

      • So the point to all this is I cannot wait for them to come up with a GPS version of the microchip! As soon as they do I’ll be on board 100% excuse me 200% because over my lifetime I’ve lost many animals to simple disappearances​…


  7. I am always amazed at people who think that microchips can track, too.

    When my dog panicked and ran off (a helicopter nearly landed on top of us – I’m pretty certain they never saw us in that field), I posted her as missing with all of her particulars, including the fact that she was chipped.

    A surprising number of people thought that I should be able to use her chip to find her.

    Needless to say, when I got her back (safe and sound 24 hours later) we invested in GPS collars. Expensive and clunky, but the best we can do for now. I can’t wait to see the technology improve!

  8. I love the idea of the GPS. But it would be difficult for those pets who refuse to wear collars. If they ever come up with some kind of GPS chip (like the microchip), I would definitely be on board.

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