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Microchips

 
A microchip is a small glass tube, the size of a rice grain, which is implanted between the shoulders of your cat (in the US). When scanned with a hand-held instrument, it transmits a 9-15 digit/character code. By calling a national database, the code can be correlated to the cat owner.

Simple, right?   Not really. There are different types of chips. Two major brands are Avid and HomeAgain. Both operate on a frequency of 125kHz. Not all scanners can read all chips - a scanner may be able to tell that there is a chip, but some chips are encrypted and the code can only be decrypted by the manufacturer’s scanner. Some universal scanners exist that can read all brands. Universal standards have been developed in Europe, but not the US. European/Canadian chips operate at 134.2 kHz.

There are four major US databases. The person scanning must phone the correct database. In the California San Francisco Bay area, all shelters and most vets will check for microchips. This is not true for all states/areas. You have to check with local shelters and vets to see what brand of scanner they have.

Databases:

Avid   http://www.avidid.com
Home Again http://www.homeagain.com
AKC http://www.akccar.org/
24petwatch http://www.24petwatch.com
European standard http://www.crystaltag.com/

To look up a microchip and find out who make it (they you can to their web site, or call for the pet owner): petmicrochiplookup.org checkthechip.com

More information:
Wikipedia microchip