Rethink the microchip and boost your return-to-owner rate

MSMP team microchips a cat in her carrier

Are we paying enough attention to microchipping as a strategy to increase lifesaving and reduce intake to animal shelters? An international study hints we may want to rethink the importance of the chip.

The study looked at shelters in Florida, Italy, and Israel, and it was the Israeli experience that sparks this conclusion. In that country, all owned dogs are microchipped and there is a single, mandatory national microchip database. The return to owner (RTO) rate for dogs in Israel is 67 percent, which compares unfavorably to the U.S. rate of between 13 and 19 percent.

The study was published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, A much earlier Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) study, had similar findings. In their research, RTO for microchipped dogs was more than 74 percent, while it was more than 63 percent for cats.

The issue of microchipping in the U.S. is considerably more complex, leading to genuine confusion for pet owners, and huge inefficiencies in reading microchips and reuniting pets with their owners. But it’s hard to miss the message that microchipping is a powerful tool to drive down stray intake and euthanasia, while allowing adoption organizations to focus resources on those pets who don’t already have an owner.

A few tips for successful shelter programs includes doing what many shelters and spay/neuter programs already do, and offer free microchips with all adoptions or surgery. (Make sure you use chips from one of the companies listed in the American Animal Hospital Association’s (AAHA) Universal Pet Microchip Lookup.

Another way to make microchipping easier and more effective is to offer registration of the chip at the time of implantation, instead of expecting the owner to do it themselves when they get home. The Michelson Found Animals Foundation registry is part of the AAHA  microchip lookup database and offers free registration of any microchip.

The study compares other aspects of shelters in the three countries they look at, and is well worth a look.

Zita Talamonti, Noga Zusman, Simona Cannas, Michela Minero, Silvia Mazzola, Clara Palestrini, A description of the characteristics of dogs in, and policies of 4 shelters in, different countries, Journal of Veterinary Behavior, Volume 28, 2018, Pages 25-29, ISSN 1558-7878,