How Pet Microchipping Works

Pet Microchip Registration

A dog awaits its lost owner in May 2007 in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Microchipping and registering your pet can help reunite you with your lost pet after disasters.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The microchip implant in your pet is useless if you don't bother to register your contact information with an agency. Each microchip carries a unique identification number, and that identification number matches your name and contact information in a database.

When you register, you provide this identification number, as well as your contact information or your veterinarian's contact information. When a shelter finds your pet, they use scanners to read the number and contact an agency that manages the database. The agency then contacts you with the good news that your lost pet has been found. It's important you keep your contact information up-to-date in the database. Whenever you move or get a new phone number or e-mail address, you should to notify the agency of the change.


Agencies such as AKCCAR keep databases of pet information for pets that have microchips (as well as tattoos and collar tags). Even though the American Kennel Club manages the database, that doesn't mean it's just for dogs. Its database includes dozens of kinds of pets. Often agencies also will let you enter an alternate contact in the database.

Not all microchip companies use the same database, however. American Veterinary Identification Devices (AVID) uses PETtrac. HomeAgain used to use AKCCAR, but they split in 2005, and HomeAgain now operates its own database system.

As you might guess, multiple databases cause multiple problems. Even though each pet has its own completely unique microchip number, animal shelter employees still have to figure out which database contains the pet's information. Various organizations, including the National Animal Control Association, want to solve this time-consuming dilemma. The American Microchip Advisory Council for Animals (AMACA) has stepped up to the plate with plans to make this process more efficient. By creating what it calls an "umbrella database," the organization intends to coordinate existing databases. This way, animal shelters only have to communicate with one place to get the information they need.

The quandary of multiple databases, however, is the least of the problems associated with pet microchipping. Read on to find out why scanner compatibility issues plague animal shelters and lead to deadly mistakes for pets.