Microchipping your dog is one of the best ways to ensure that you as their owner can be traced if the dog wanders off or gets lost, and it is also the law in the UK as of 2016 that all dogs over the age of eight weeks old be microchipped as standard.
Because microchipping is widely promoted in veterinary clinics and by animal welfare organisations and also of course because it is a legal requirement for dogs, most of our dogs are already microchipped, and this is something that we tend to only think about if our dog has got lost or if we need the microchip number to fill in paperwork for the dog.
Having that reassurance even years down the line if you need it that your dog could be identified if they got lost or if you had to prove ownership is one of the greatest benefits of microchipping – but can a dog’s microchip fail, get lost, or stop working, and why?
In this article we will explain in more detail how a dog’s microchip works, what might cause it to fail, and what to do if your dog’s microchip can no longer be read or detected. Read on to learn more.
Many dog owners don’t fully understand what a microchip can and cannot do or how they work, and this is something that often isn’t fully explained by vets at the time of microchipping. Microchips aren’t trackers or locator devices that you can use to pinpoint where exactly your dog is, which many people assume because of the correlation between microchipping and reuniting lost dogs with their owners.
But a microchip is in fact just a small radiofrequency device inserted under the skin, which can be activated by a microchip scanner to transmit a unique code number back to the scanner, which can then be looked up in the microchipping database to identify the owner’s details.
This means that for a microchip to serve its purpose of enabling a dog’s owner to be found or identified, several things have to happen. The microchip itself needs to be findable in the dog’s body (microchips are placed under the skin at the scruff of the dog’s neck normally, but they can occasionally migrate within the body), the microchip itself must activate when scanned, the scanner must work and be able to identify the chip, and the database must contain the owner’s details – which in their turn, need to be accurate and up to date.
Microchips are very reliable devices that are designed to remain functional for the entire duration of the dog’s life, but in very rare situations, a microchip can actually fail. There are a few things that can result in a microchip itself failing, and several more that can serve to prevent even a functional microchip from being able to be used to identify a dog’s owner.
Here are some of the most common causes and scenarios that may result in microchip failure, or a failure to get the correct information from a microchip.
Microchips are electronic devices that remain in dormant or resting mode until they are triggered into life by a message from the scanner, and in rare cases, the microchip itself might fail or break. This will result in it not receiving the cue from the scanner, or failing to transmit information back. This is perhaps the truest form of microchip failure, but also one of the rarest.
Microchips and scanning devices are sold in the UK by several different companies, and today, there is a great drive for uniformity in terms of the abilities of different brands of microchips to work with different brands of scanners. However, different radiofrequencies may be used for some microchipping systems to the more common variants, and if this is the case, a scanner designed for one system might not pick up another system’s chip.
Most clinics possess scanners capable of reading all of the common microchip types found in the UK, but older chips or those implanted abroad might use an uncommon frequency, which may mean that they are missed by some scanners.
Once in place, microchips are designed to stay in place for the duration of the dog’s life, but in rare cases the chip can migrate to a different part of the dog’s body. If your vet can’t pick up the chip in the area of your dog’s neck and you are sure the dog is chipped, your vet will carefully scan the dog’s whole body to see if the chip has migrated elsewhere.
Even if the chip is found, your vet might recommend having your dog microchipped again with a new number, to ensure that if they do get lost and scanned by someone who does not know that the old chip has moved, the dog can still be identified.
Microchip scanners should pick up microchips with ease without the need for a specific technique or approach to scanning, but they do need to be held a certain distance from the skin and passed over the skin slowly enough to give the microchip time to activate.
If the scanner cannot find the chip on the first pass, the person operating it will likely change their approach, slow down and go over the dog’s body with more care, but occasionally, poor technique or moving the scanner too quickly or too far from the dog’s skin can result in the chip being missed.
If a dog is found in a very bad state with matted, knotted fur across much of their body, this fur can actually serve to obstruct the connection between the scanner and the chip, causing it to be missed or passed over. In this case, the people caring for the dog will usually try again after the dog’s fur has been clipped or otherwise sorted out.
A dog that has gained a lot of weight since they were microchipped, particularly around the neck, might also not be able to have their microchip read as the excess fat can block the connection to the scanner.
A very thick leather collar and particularly, a collar made of metal or with a lot of metal fixings can again cause a scanner to be unable to pick up the chip, and removing the collar might result in success.
The most common reason for a microchipped dog failing to make it back to their owner when lost is in fact not to do with a technical failure of the microchip, but due to out of date owner details.
Your name, address and phone numbers are all entered into the microchip database when you have your dog chipped, so if you move home or change your number, you need to update the details.
However, many dog owners forget to do this, which means that even if a microchipped dog is found and a named owner is located, they won’t make it home without difficulty if the owner’s details are out of date and the owner cannot be traced.