dog being scanned for a microchip

Can Microchipping Reunite Lost Dogs: A Dog Parent’s Guide

One of the worst things that can happen to a pet parent is having someone steal their dog. I am often asked can microchipping reunite lost dogs and the answer is a wholehearted YES, but microchips also reunite stolen dogs. Dog mom Linda Goodson knows all about dog theft after someone stole her two 10-week-old Miniature Poodles from her yard.

Microchipping reunites lost and stolen dogs thanks to the radiowaves it emits when a shelter or vet’s office scans the dog. The microchip’s radiowaves are activated by the scanner and the number will show up on the scanner screen. Each microchip contains a unique identification number that can help reunite lost dogs with their parents. A microchip is not a GPS tracking device and it is easily injected under a dog’s skin using a hypodermic needle. No surgery or anesthesia is required, and many reputable breeders will often send their puppies home with a microchip embedded.

In an Ohio State University study, 53 shelters in 23 states agreed to maintain monthly records about microchipped animals brought to their facilities. If there was any doubt about the effect of microchipping on lost dogs, the results of this study prove their efficacy. An astounding 72.7 percent of microchipped animals were reunited with their owners. Linda Goodson and the dog parents featured in this story all recommend microchipping every dog a person owns and register it with the proper contact information. Here’s everything you need to know to answer the question “can microchipping reunited lost dogs” and proof of how and why they work.

microchipping reunite lost dogs

How Is A Microchip Implanted In A Dog?

A microchip measures about the size of a grain of rice and is enclosed in a glass cylinder. The small, electronic chip is injected under the dog’s skin using a hypodermic needle. In most cases, the microchip is implanted under the dog’s skin during a routine veterinary visit. Our Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, was microchipped by his breeder as a puppy. Once I got him home, I changed the registered contact information to my name, address, and phone number.

The process of microchipping is relatively easy, especially in puppies or dogs during a veterinary visit. Shelter dogs and strays may already have a microchip, so it is important for shelters and pet parents to have a rescue or stray dog scanned for a chip first. Someone could be searching for their lost pet and that microchip is their ticket home.

Here’s a video featuring the process of microchipping, what they look like, and how the microchip scanner works:

Can Microchipping Reunite Lost Dogs?

It was a nice summer day when Virginia dog groomer and Miniature Poodle breeder, Linda Goodson-Smith, allowed her two 10-week-old Miniature Poodles to frolic around her gated yard on July 13, 2019. Unbeknownst to Linda, someone reached into a weak spot in the fence and scooped up both her pups. For six long weeks, Linda searched for the pups and took to social media hoping someone would spot them. Her post was shared thousands of times on Facebook until one day she received a text message.

“I received a text message from a Facebook friend asking if I could prove I was the owner of the puppies, and I screamed YES,” Linda recalls. “I told her the pups are microchipped and she asked me for their chip numbers. I was able to do so and got my babies back!”

The puppies were brought into a Virginia grooming shop by someone who claimed to have rescued them. Ironically, the person brought the Poodles in separately to get groomed, perhaps not wanting to raise suspicion. The astute groomers recognized the Poodles and had them scanned, which identified their true owner. Both dogs were in a nearby state and in order to get them back, Linda agreed not to pursue charges. The woman would not state how she got the two pups, but Linda agreed to “anything at that point to get my puppies back.”

can microchipping reunite lost dogs
Linda is reunited with her stolen miniature Poodles.

With a generous heart, Linda allowed the groomer who got involved to have one of the two puppies since she had been pining for a silver Miniature Poodle. The female dog, Vegas, remains an integral part of Linda’s life and goes to the grooming shop with her mom almost every day.

Should your dog go missing or get stolen, Linda recommends joining a local Facebook group for stolen and missing pets and posting the information with photos online. Encourage people to share your post and contact every veterinary hospital and rescue within a 200-mile radius. Let them know your dog is missing or stolen and that the animal is microchipped.

“Microchips make it able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt whose dog it is,” Linda says. “Vegas didn’t let me out of her sight since I got her back.”

poodle who was recovered thanks to a microchip
Vegas is happy back with his rightful owner.

Are All Microchip Scanners Created Equally?

These days, universal (forward and backward reading) scanners are the norm. Years ago, microchip companies made it difficult for pets to be reunited with their frantic owners because each chip required that brand’s particular scanner. Thankfully, times have changed and most facilities have a universal scanner.

As of this writing, a central database in the United States for registering microchips does not exist. Each microchip manufacturer has its own database, so each embedded microchip must be registered with their individual registries. On the upside, AVMA says microchip scanners display the name of the manufacturer when the microchip is read.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), a microchip “does dramatically increase the chances you will be reunited with your pet…as long as you keep the registration information up to date.”

Microchips, like any form of identification, are not foolproof. AVMA warns pet parents that a microchip may be difficult to detect if animals struggle excessively during the scanning process, if a hunk of matted hair is present at the scanning site, if there are excessive fatty deposits near the implanted chip, or if the dog has a metal collar on or one with a lot of metal on it. Most of these situations are easily rectified so that if a microchip is present, the likelihood of a successful scan is high. Read more about reducing the chances of missing a microchip here.

scanning stray dog for a microchip

Can Microchips Help Stray Dogs?

On February 2, 2018, California resident Jenine Yee saw two dogs running down the street together. Yee pulled her car over, got both dogs inside and drove straight to the vet’s office to get them scanned. One of the dogs was microchipped and the other was not.

“The owner came for her dog but she had no idea who the second dog was,” Yee shares. “Her dog ran over 10 miles away from his home overnight and he must have met the other dog on his adventure.”

Yee posted the second dog’s photo and information to a variety of lost dog listings online but no one claimed him after 30 days. She named him Archie and now calls him her “silly, rambunctious little boy.”

stray dog never had a microchip
Archie of Jenine Yee

The benefits of microchipping a dog far outweighs any risks, as a stray dog with a microchip has a huge chance of being reunited with his owner.

In the Ohio State Study, the number one reason owners couldn’t be found was because of an incorrect or disconnected phone number in the registration database. An implanted microchip is more effective if the pet’s owner keeps the information up to date in the registry. If your cell phone number changes, you move, or ownership of the dog happens, always call the microchip company to change the information.

Some microchip services such as AKC Reunite provide a Lost Pet Alert that shares a lost or stolen dog’s information with a network of veterinarians, shelters, and volunteers in the dog owner’s area. Yes, microchips can and do help stray dogs all the time.

Do Microchips Last Throughout A Dog’s Life?

New York resident Mike (last name withheld) loved his two-year-old teacup Yorkshire Terrier. His neighbor, Joan Mullaly, would dogsit the pooch, named Cary, anytime Mike went out of town. Every summer, Mike and Cary would travel to Long Island. Mike felt confident his dog was safe in the backyard since he had a tall wooden fence installed around the perimeter.

Sadly, one day in 2006, Cary disappeared. Mike knew there was no way Cary escaped on his own. He believes someone knew the dog was there, waited until Mike left, jumped the fence, and dognapped his beloved pooch. Little Cary was dognapped as months passed into years with no sightings of the Yorkie.

Mike hung up missing dog posters, posted online, offered rewards, and looked everywhere for Cary with no success. Four years passed and while many people would have given up hope, Joan says Mike was certain Cary was out there somewhere and he would find him. Since Cary was purchased from a reputable breeder and considered to be a “top dog,” Mike feared his prized pup would end up in a puppy mill to produce litter after litter.

terrier was stolen and reunited because of microchip

In 2009, Mike received a phone call from a veterinarian in rural Virginia, quite the distance from Long Island where Cary was stolen four years earlier. A family found a dog covered in fleas, matted, and all alone wandering on a country road. They took the dog to a veterinarian where a microchip scan revealed the stray dog’s identity: Cary!

Throughout the years, Mike continued to update Cary’s microchip information so that a successful reunion took place. Mike recalls sobbing and screaming aloud when the vet called him. Mike says Cary was thrilled to see him, although the family who found him was sad to see him go, as they planned to adopt him.

No one knows how or why Cary ended up almost 400 miles from where he was stolen. Mike believes someone took Cary to a puppy mill down south, the great recession of 2009 hit, people stopped buying puppies in general, and Cary was likely dumped by the side of the road. Mike and Cary had a happy life together despite the dog’s four-year absence.  Cary lived to the ripe old age of 16 years, but without the microchip Mike never would have seen her again.

Are There Any Side Effects To Microchipping?

Ellen Toomey has been involved with Cocker Spaniels for about 22 years, and she says her Cocker, Tara, had issues with two different microchips. “The first one disappeared,” she says, “and the second one migrated.”

Though rare, microchips can move once inside a dog’s body, which is why lost, rescued, and stray dogs should have a complete scan. A microchip requires no battery, no power, and no moving parts, and it is rare for them to move or get displaced.

“It’s extremely important that a vet places the chip because as you can imagine we don’t want it to be placed within the muscle or spine or elsewhere,” says Dr. Scott Lafey of AMICI Pet Hospital in San Diego, California.

Microchips do not “turn off” and they do not “wear out” so in most circumstances they should not need to be replaced. According to Found Animals, of over 3.7 million pets examined, true migration of a chip occurs in less than one out of every 10,000 cases.

There are some reports floating around online and in dog circles that mice and rats developed cancer after being implanted with a microchip. According to the AVMA, “the majority of these mice and rats were being used for cancer studies when the tumors were found, and the rat and mice strains used in the studies are known to be more likely to develop cancer.”

The World Small Animal Veterinary Association (WSAVA) weighs in on the topic of microchips and increased cancer risk in dogs and cats with a published paper. In it, they state, “While it is not possible to claim that the reaction to an implanted transponder in a companion animal will NEVER induce tumor formation, the Committee is unanimously of the opinion that the benefits available to implanted animals far outweigh any possible risk to the health of the animal concerned.” Read the entire paper here.

I’ve been a Cocker Spaniel mom for nearly 30 years and none of my dogs ever developed side effects or cancer from an embedded microchip. A microchip gives me peace of mind that if ever something should happen, a microchip may be the only piece of information that reunites me with my dog. I can’t put a price tag on peace of mind and the love I have for my dogs.

Can microchipping reunite lost dogs

What’s the Best Microchip For Dogs?

Make sure you always have your pet’s microchip number and manufacturer handy. This could be in your phone or your pet’s records at home, but always write it down. Should you misplace this information, contact your dog’s veterinarian or breeder where the microchip was installed. Finally, keep your contact information updated with the registry on a regular basis. Call them or go to the company’s website to ensure the microchip is registered and up-to-date. Here are a few microchip companies to consider for your dog:

What Should I Do If My Dog Is Lost or Stolen?

For 10 years, Crystal Fentress wondered what happened to her beloved dog, Lela. After 10 long years of missing her best canine friend, a microchip scan at an Oklahoma shelter reunited Crystal and her pooch. When the shelter worker called Crystal, she was beside herself.

“The information hadn’t been updated in 10 years so our hope wasn’t strong with reuniting the owner. When I called the owner, she was confused because she didn’t have a missing dog,” Morgan Epperson posted to Facebook. “She then asked if the dog’s name was Lela, I confirmed the name and she instantly broke down, stating the dog has been missing for TEN YEARS.”

Dog reunited with owner after 10 years with microchip
Photo credit: Morgan Epperson/Facebook

In addition to ensuring your dog has a microchip and all information is current in the registry, there are a few things you should do if your dog goes missing or is stolen. Here are a few articles we’ve written to help with getting your dog back:

Comprehensive List of Resources to Find Lost Dogs

Hot to Help a Lost Dog

We hope that you and your dogs are never separated, but in the off chance that something happens, a microchip can be the difference between staying lost and ever seeing your beloved pooch again.

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