A quick, painless procedure offers peace of mind and a better chance of bringing a lost pet home.

“He’s gone! I can’t find him anywhere.”

Many a pet owner has known this panic and desperation when they discover their dog or cat is missing. How did he get out? Which way did he go? Was he wearing his collar? Questions flood your mind as you rush to search.

You can never completely prevent the potential for your pet becoming lost; however, there are some ways you can plan ahead to make recovery more likely. A permanent form of identification such as an implanted microchip is one of the best ways to ensure your pet can be identified once he’s been found.

Microchip technology has been used to identify animals for more than 20 years. A microchip, approximately the size of a thin grain of rice, can be implanted under the skin through a needle in a nearly painless procedure that takes a matter of seconds. The chip is encoded with a unique number that is shown on the scanner screen as it’s passed over. Each chip number is registered with the chip manufacturer using the name of the owner, address and phone numbers in case of emergency. When a lost pet is found and scanned, the shelter or veterinary hospital contacts the registry to obtain the owners information.

This scenario plays out numerous times each day in shelters and clinics across the country, reuniting pets with their families. The aftermath of natural disasters, along with common incidents such as pets escaping or injured animals brought to veterinary hospitals, are all examples of how a microchip may help reunite you with your pet. Think of microchips as an inexpensive insurance policy you hope to never use. Once a chip has been implanted and registered, you no longer have to worry about whether your dog or cat can be properly recognized.

While it’s certainly true that more pets will be identified and returned due to a collar with an ID or license tag, there’s still a significant risk that their external ID becomes lost. What if they pull out of their collar, you forget to put it on one morning or the information on the tags is out of date? In those situations, the odds of your pet being returned are greatly improved by the internal ID—an implanted microchip.

There are few medical complications associated with microchip implantation, as their design has improved over the years. In the past, chips would often migrate under the skin, which made finding them with a scanner more challenging. However, chip migration is now minimal. On rare occasions, chips will cause enough irritation that the body will react and a small mass will surround the chip. Typically, these reactions only need to be monitored and the chip can stay put. The advent of universal scanners, which read all microchips regardless of manufacturer, also makes finding implanted chips much simpler and easier than in the past.

Unfortunately, one thing a microchip is not is one of the GPS tracking devices that are also available for your pet. A chip will only allow identification of a cat or dog, not track them running through the neighborhood. Identification is ultimately dependent on someone finding the pet and the ability of the scanner to locate it. A national pet recovery system such as HomeAgain (public.homeagain.com) allows owners to identify a lost pet at any time once they are enrolled.

The potential benefits of microchips greatly outweigh any reason for not having your pet microchipped. Knowing that your dog or cat can be identified and returned is well worth the minimal cost of implantation and registration.

Kent Bruner, D.V.M., is the Managing Director and Veterinary Services Coordinator for Canine Assistants, a Georgia-based service dog school. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University College of Veterinary Medicine and has spent several years in private practice.