A tiny tracker can make a huge difference if a cherished cat or dog goes missing.

By Ardenis Perez

THE BASICS A microchip is a little bitty device—about the size of a single grain of rice—that can help reunite lost pets with their owners. Typically, when a cat or dog is found and turned in to a vet or shelter, it is scanned. If a microchip is detected, two numbers will pop up: a unique serial number created for the animal and the phone number of the company that made the chip. Once it's notified, the company can connect the pet's serial number with the owner's contact info so they can be reunited.

A QUICKIE PROCEDURE Implanting a microchip doesn't require anesthesia and takes less than a minute. "Probably closer to 5 to 10 seconds," says Andy Roark, DVM, MSc, a veterinarian at Cleveland Park Animal Hospital in Greenville, SC. The chip gets inserted via needle into the loose skin between the animal's shoulder blades, an area that isn't prone to bleeding or irritation. After implantation, you as owner must register your pet with the microchip company.

LITTLE RISK Yes, your pet will feel a fast pinch when the chip goes in, similar to a routine shot. "But there's no more or less chance of infection than there would be with a vaccine," Roark adds.

COST Prices vary regionally but the goal is to keep the procedure affordable, generally less than $50. Vets and shelters sometimes host "chip day" community events with even lower than usual fees, says Roark.

BOTTOM LINE The chances of complications are so small that the upside definitely outweighs the risks. "I really recommend a chip for every pet," says Roark. But bear in mind that even tech-equipped cats or dogs should still wear a collar and tag. After all, a microchip won't help a neighbor reach you. Ideally, a tag-and-chip combo is the way to go.

SMART MOVE If you opt for a tracker, be sure to keep your phone number current with the microchip company so it can contact you easily.

TOGETHER AGAIN Earlier this year when Pat Erwin and her dog, Daisy, were visiting family in Arlington, Virginia, Daisy managed to run away. Pat and a search party combed the neighborhood for hours with no luck. After two agonizing days, Pat received a call from Arlington’s humane society—the Chihuahua mix had been found in a mall parking lot five miles away safe and sound. Because Daisy had been microchipped, the shelter was able to call Pat with the good news. “I believed in microchipping so much that I didn’t lose hope,” says Pat.  “I knew we would find her.”