Did you know that according to a study conducted by the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs are 2.5 times more likely and cats are a whopping 21.4 times more likely to be returned to their home from a shelter if they have a registered microchip?

Surprised to hear that statistic? Well, you’re not alone. There are many misunderstandings and myths about microchipping, so to clear up confusion, here are the top five things you probably didn’t know about microchips:

1. A microchip does NOT store any of your information.

About the size of a grain of rice, a microchip only contains one piece of information: a unique 9, 10, or 15-digit number (think of it like your pet’s social security number). For the microchip to work, it needs to be registered in an online registry. Without registration, the microchip is useless, just as your social security number would be meaningless unless it correlated back to your name in a database. An unregistered microchip is extremely difficult to trace back to the owner, and a busy shelter may not have the time or resources to track down that information. (Remember: the registration needs to be updated if you ever move or change your phone number.)

Another common misconception is that just because the shelter microchipped your pet when you adopted from the shelter, the microchip is automatically registered to you. In fact, your pet’s microchip may still be registered to the shelter, or even to the previous owner. It could even still be unregistered after all this time if the shelter never registered it on your behalf.

To check if your pet’s microchip is registered, you can use AAHA’s pet microchip lookup tool. This useful tool tells you if/where a microchip is registered. AVID does not participate in this tool. If AAHA’s website points to AVID, we recommend calling AVID directly to see if your pet’s microchip is registered with them.

2. A microchip is NOT a GPS.

You cannot locate or “track” your pet with its microchip. Microchips are “passive transponders,” meaning they don’t contain a power source, so they have no way to signal when your pet is lost. In fact, the chip doesn’t do anything at all until a scanner is passed over it. That’s when the microchip uses the energy produced by the scanner to emit a unique code, which then appears on the scanner.

Another reason a microchip cannot be a GPS is size. To add a power source to the microchip, you would need to add a battery compartment inside the chip (making it a lot larger than the current injectable size), and your pet would need to be “plugged in” to charge, sort of like an electric car. Pet GPS collar tags are available, but of course, they’re worn on the outside.

3. Not all microchips and scanners are “universal.”

Microchips in the United States operate on one of three frequencies: 125 kHz, 128 kHz, and 134.2 kHz.

Some manufacturers provide microchips in more than one of these types. The 125 kHz is the oldest U.S. frequency and is still distributed by AVID, and HomeAgain. The 128 kHz is the rarest frequency and has only been distributed by the AKC. The 134.2 kHz is the ISO International Standard chip, which is the frequency that Europe, Canada, Japan, and most parts of the world are already using and that the U.S. is slowly moving towards. Most U.S. suppliers now provide ISO standard 134.2 kHz microchips, including Datamars, ResQ, HomeAgain, AKC, 24PetWatch, Bayer, and 911 Pet Chip.

A universal scanner must pick up all three frequencies. This is where people tend to get confused. Some shelters and vets assume that if their scanner picks up three different brands of microchips, it is universal. However, as you can tell from the above, some brands are on the same chip frequency, and some make several different types of microchips. So unless the scanner picks up all three frequencies (the 125, 128, and 134.2), it is NOT universal. And unfortunately, many organizations are unknowingly still using non-universal scanners, which means they are missing chips and, therefore, unable to reunite lost pets with their families.

4. You can register any brand of microchip with any registry. AND you can register a microchip in multiple registries.

For example, if your pet has an AVID microchip, you can register it with HomeAgain and AKC. But here’s where this may cause a problem. Say your pet’s microchip is an AVID chip, and you register it with HomeAgain. If the shelter sees that your pet’s microchip is an AVID chip, they may call AVID to see if it is registered, and if they stop their search there, the other registrations may never be found. So unless they use AAHA’s pet microchip lookup tool to expand their search, your pet might never make it home, even though you kept your registration up to date.

On top of that, registries in the United States are not required to speak to each other or share owner information, so shelters that don’t search microchips online would theoretically have to call every single microchip supplier one by one to determine where it may be registered (a complicated and potentially deadly process for your pet). Most organizations have scarce resources and do not have the time or people available to wait on hold with all of the common microchip companies. Because there is no singular national database in the United States, some owners choose to register their pets in multiple registries as an added safety net. Some for-profit registries will charge a fee to register or update your pet’s info, but as long as all registrations are kept up-to-date, there is no harm in registering in multiple registries.

5. A microchip is NOT the way most pets get home.

Yes, a microchip is your pet’s only form of permanent ID. Yes, it is a great way to protect your pet. Yes, every pet should have a microchip with current registration information. However, the quickest way for your lost pet to get home is with a collar and tag with your phone number on it. Never underestimate the power of an external ID tag – it’s visible and easy for people to understand, which means even a first-time pet finder should know how to contact you. Of course, external ID can still fall off or be damaged, but if you pair an external tag with permanent microchip ID, your pet will have two solid layers of protection to get him home.

The Michelson Found Animals Foundation’s mission of saving pets and enriching lives is made possible by the generous contributions of Dr. Gary Michelson and Alya Michelson.