Microchipping vs. a Pet GPS Tracker
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Microchipping vs. a Pet GPS Tracker

Est. read time: 5 min.

July’s arrival brings long days, pleasant nights, and a reminder to all pet owners that National Lost Pet Prevention Month has rolled around again! Every year we cover why it is so important to microchip your pets, especially as the summer season prompts increased traveling and spending as much time as possible outdoors.

Yet with these outdoor adventures comes a sobering statistic: More than 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every year. The good news is, the return-to-owner rate for microchipped dogs is over 52 percent (compared to 22 percent for dogs who aren’t microchipped), and the return-to-owner rate for microchipped cats is over 38 percent (compared to a staggering 2 percent who aren’t).

The stats say it allmicrochipping is a sure way to drastically increase your chances of finding a lost pet. However, with the rise in both wearable and pet-related technology, there’s now another option to consider: the pet GPS tracker.

What’s the difference between a pet GPS tracker and a microchip? Which one is right for your dog or your cat? Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of both devices below.


Pro: A microchip is permanent.

Microchipping is a quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive one-time procedure. The device is a small, electronic chip enclosed in a glass cylinder about the size of a grain of rice that is inserted under your pet’s skin. It will never fall off or come out unless surgically removed.

Con: It’s only useful if your pet is turned in to someone with a microchip scanner.

Put a different way, you’ll need a Good Samaritan to turn in your pet to a shelter or clinic first. 99 percent of shelters and clinics have a microchip scanner, which is passed over your pet’s implant. The microchip uses power from the radio waves emitted by the scanner to transmit the microchip’s identification number.     

Pro: A microchip is resistant to the elements, including water.

You never have to worry about your pet’s microchip malfunctioning if he takes a dip in the pond or rolls around in the mud. Since it is inserted under your pet’s skin, it’s naturally protected from the elements. (To be fair, many GPS trackers are water-resistant too.)

Con: A microchip is useless if it’s not registered by the pet owner.

You must register your pet’s microchip to connect its ID number to your information. Too often, lost animals are taken to shelters, scanned for microchips, and the ID number leads nowhere because the microchip was never registered.

Pro: A microchip doesn’t require battery life.

Because a radio-frequency identification (RFID) implant like a microchip doesn’t require a power source like a battery, you don’t have to worry about keeping it charged or replacing it—it will last the lifetime of your pet.

Pet GPS Trackers

Pro: A pet GPS tracker can pinpoint your pet’s exact location in real-time.

If you’re in an area with 3G coverage, the tracker should be able to relay your pet’s precise location. Whether or not this happens in real-time depends on how spotty the internet coverage is. Unlike bluetooth-only trackers that have a range of 50 feet, a device like Whistle 3 lets you track your pet’s movements anywhere in the U.S. with continual address and location updates on a GPS map.  

Con: A pet GPS tracker requires a collar.

This isn’t a problem if you have a dog. The GPS tracker is either affixed to your dog’s existing collar or is the collar itself, such as the Link AKC Smart Collar. However, cats are not often enthused by the idea of wearing a collar. In many cases, cats should not be wearing one at all unless it’s a breakaway collar. (You don’t need us to tell you that this would defeat the purpose of the GPS tracker.)

Pro: It can track more than just your pet’s location.

Several GPS pet trackers will monitor your pet’s fitness and even some health factors. For example, PetPace Smart Collar analyzes your dog’s vitals and activity signs, from resting to running, plus pulse and respiration. FitBark 2 also monitors quality of sleep, distance traveled, calories burned, and more.

Con: A pet GPS tracker might shut off, fall off, or be stolen.

Battery life is the often-cited drawback of a pet GPS tracker. Some devices, such as Whistle 3, might last up to a week before needing a charge, while others only last a couple days. (In case you’re wondering, the current winner of the battery contest seems to be Fitbark 2, which claims to have a battery life of up to 6 months.) There’s also the (lesser) consideration that the device might fall off your pet or even get snatched.

Con: A pet GPS tracker typically comes with monthly and/or annual fees.

Most pet GPS tracking requires a service plan that incurs monthly or annual fees. Very few trackers include only the upfront cost of the device.

Consensus: Microchipping vs. a Pet GPS Tracker

If you have a dog

Utilize a best-case scenario with both a microchip and a tracker! GPS trackers, so far, are undoubtedly made with canines in mind, and there’s a good chance your dog will take to wearing one with ease. If the worst should happen, the microchip can act as a safe backup toward an eventual reunion.

If you have a cat

Microchip your cat and skip the GPS tracker. Perhaps someday we’ll have a way to implant a GPS device much like a microchip, but until then, your cat will appreciate not having to drag around a cumbersome tracker and/or collar.

No matter what you decide about a pet GPS tracker, make sure your dog or cat is microchipped and registered to your information this July!


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