GPS Collars or Microchip Implants: Which Is the Best for Finding a Lost Dog or Cat?

Are your pets safer with microchip implants or GPS collars?
i The cat is ready to protect a dog image by Inga Markova from

When you decide to step into the 21st century with your dog's or cat's pet identification, which is most helpful in finding a lost pet: GPS collars or microchips? Neither one may be the best solution for everyone. Making a decision is easier when you compare the two options.

Differences Between Microchips and GPS

Some people mistakenly think that microchips are tracking devices that allow them to be picked up by GPS. This is not the case. Microchips are implants that are injected beneath your dog's or cat's skin, typically in the shoulder area. In order to be an active GPS device that would register through a global positioning satellite, the microchip would have to be powered up at all times, but microchips don't have internal batteries or power sources because they're too small. They only power up when a microchip reader is passed over them, sending your pet's unique ID number to the reader's window. GPS units, on the other hand, are much larger and are worn externally on your pet's collar. They have a power source and can be tracked via a global positioning satellite.

Benefits of GPS

With a GPS collar, you can locate your pet almost anywhere. Many cell phone companies offer pet GPS along with other service features, meaning you can see right on your mobile device where your pet is and follow it to track him down. Some mobile phone companies offer a feature with the pet GPS service that will email or text you if your pet leaves certain zone that you specify. Because the GPS device attaches to your pet's collar, you don't have to be concerned about possible physical reactions to having an implant.

Benefits of Microchips

Implanting a microchip in your dog's or cat's shoulder provides a permanent source of identification that cannot be removed or accidentally fall off. Microchips are inexpensive and only involve a one-time fee for the procedure and the registration of your pet' unique ID number. The process is very quick and isn't any more uncomfortable than receiving a vaccination. Because the chips don't need constant power -- they draw the necessary power from the reader when it is needed -- you don't have to be concerned with changing out the batteries.

GPS Drawbacks

For GPS to be effective when you need to find a lost pet, you and your pet both need to be in areas that have active cell phone or Internet coverage, and not all areas do. Although lightweight, GPS devices are quite big and can be cumbersome and outright too big for cats and small dogs. Being battery powered, the GPS device will be useless if the battery is allowed to run down. Although your cell phone company may not require that you sign a contract for your pet GPS subscription, you'll still have the expense of the device itself as well as a monthly fee for the rest of your pet's life or until you cancel the subscription. Since the GPS unit attaches to your pet's collar, it can accidentally fall off if the collar falls off or can even be purposely removed by someone, rendering it useless in finding your pet.

Microchip Drawbacks

Microchips are becoming more and more common, but not every shelter in the country has a scanner and among the ones that do, not all of them have universal scanners that can read all microchips (although more shelters are getting access to them). Your pet must be found and taken to a shelter or veterinarian's office where there is a scanner available that can read your pet's microchip in order for the chip to be helpful in reuniting the two of you. In very limited cases, microchips have caused inflammation when injected. Some claim that microchips can cause cancer. There is no conclusive evidence of this, although research on this subject continues.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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