Should I microchip my chihuahua?

Recently a chihuahua meet-up group in my area sponsored a microchip clinic and some people came out strongly against it. What’s the big deal and should I get my chihuahua microchipped? What are my alternatives?


This is a great question and a very important one. Most people don’t think about their pets getting lost until it’s too late. According to a study by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, about 1 million dogs and 584,000 cats are taken into animal shelters as strays each year. Only about 15 percent of those dogs and 2 percent of the cats are reunited with their owners because they were not properly identified.

There are 3 main options for identifying your chihuahua: microchip, tattoo, plain old collar and tag. I will go into the pros and cons of each.

Microchip
Pros:

  • Permanently implanted underneath the skin in between your dog’s shoulder blades
  • Procedure is quick and no more painful than receiving a vaccination shot
  • Approximately the size of a grain of rice, small enough for chihuahuas (even hamsters and birds can be microchipped)
  • You can store your dog’s health information in the database, for example, your dog is diabetic and requires medication
  • May help identify your pet in case of theft
  • Relatively inexpensive: $25-45 one time cost, there are also free clinics

Cons:

  • Microchips are manufactured in different frequencies, from 125 to 134.2 kilohertz, and not all scanners can read competitor’s chips.
  • Not all shelters and vets have scanners to read the microchips
  • Since the chip is invisible, the person who finds your dog has no way of knowing it’s there and might not bring the dog to a shelter for scanning
  • Although it’s rare, microchips can migrate in the body and make it difficult to find during scanning process
  • Microchips are encased in inert glass, so it should not cause any adverse reactions, but no long-term studies have been done to determine its safety within the body. Studies have shown that lab mice and rats have developed malignant tumors near the implanted chips, but it is important to note that these studies did not have animals without implants as the proper control.

Conclusion: The biggest problem with microchips is that not all scanners can read different frequencies. Currently, the 125 chip, manufactured by Avid and HomeAgain, is the most widely used in the US. Before you microchip your dog, call your local shelters and vet offices and find out the most popular chip used in your area. Microchips cannot substitute for collars, ID tags and rabies tags, these should still be the primary identification.

Tattoo
Pros:

  • Permanent and easily visible to the person who finds your dog
  • No special equipment is needed to read the tattoo
  • Deters theft
  • Usually applied to an inconspicuous area, either on the outer ear or the inner thigh
  • Process is quick (less than 10 minutes to apply a 10-digit code) and painless
  • Relatively inexpensive, $30 to $45 one-time fee
  • The two main registries, National Dog Registry and Tatoo-A-Pet, have been around since the 1960s and 70s

Cons:

  • Not everyone knows what to do with the tattoo number, however shelters and vet offices would know to call the tattoo registries
  • Might be hard to read tattoo in a breed with dense hair, probably not a problem for most chihuahuas, even longcoats
  • While most vet offices offer microchipping, not all offer tattooing and you have to actively seek out the service (look on the websites for the registries to locate certified tattooists in your area)
  • The tattoo could fade over time or get stretched out if your dog grows significantly
  • Tattoos can be altered by thieves

Conclusion: Tattoo is a safe alternative to microchip. It is a method that has been around for a long time, but has not gained the popularity of microchips, perhaps because pet owners see tattooing as cruel or find the tattoo unsightly. You should still use a collar and ID tag even if you choose to tattoo your dog. It’s still easier to read your phone number on the ID tag than to decipher a code. However, it is NOT advisable to tattoo your phone number on your dog, since it can change.

Collar and Tag
Pros:

  • Cheap and available everywhere
  • Owner’s contact information is clearly visible
  • No special device or registry is needed to decipher information
  • Cons:

    • Not useful if your chihuahua is not wearing it at the time it gets lost
    • May become loose and get lost or destroyed
    • Someone who wants to steal your dog can remove the collar

    Conclusion: While it is not the perfect solution, it is the simplest and most direct. You should ALWAYS have a collar and ID tag on your dog. Microchips or tattoo should be the backup identification if you decide to go with one of those methods.

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