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GPS Collars vs. Microchip Implants for Pets

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/6/2011

Both GPS collars and microchip implants can help return a lost pet to its owner. We'll take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both to see which one is a more viable alternative.

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    GPS Collars and Pet Locators

    Keeping Your Dogs Safe If you're thinking about purchasing a GPS pet collar to use for locating your dog or cat, make sure that you read up on the device first. These locators come in a number of different flavors and have a wide variety of functions – some are only capable of tracking your pet within a few miles of your home while others include more global tracking capabilities. This latter type of GPS collar usually requires you to pay a monthly fee on top of the initial cost of the equipment, so the expenses can add up pretty fast.

    Speaking of costs, these devices can be pretty pricey. The collar itself can cost anything from $100 and up with some devices well over the $500 range. On top of that, to get the full benefits of the collar, you'll often have to purchase a monthly subscription service from a company such as Petsafe, which can run in the neighborhood of $20 per month.

    Although there are GPS collars that are small enough and light enough to be worn by cats and small dogs, most are really meant for mid-sized and larger dogs. Even if a product is advertised as being compatible with smaller pets, check the weight and size before you buy. Imagine how you would feel if you had to wear something around your neck that weighed a significant percentage of your own body weight! Not only would this make your pet extremely uncomfortable, but it also increases the likelihood that your dog or cat will try to remove the collar every chance it gets.

    Despite some of these downsides, GPS pet collars do offer one significant advantage – they allow you to track and locate your pet at any time (subject to the constraints of the particular device, of course). Not only can this provide ample peace of mind, but it could prove crucial to saving your pet's life if it is subject to health problems or if it becomes lost in a dangerous or unfriendly locale.

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    Microchip Implants

    Some pet owners may shy away from microchip implants, because the name of the device suggests that surgery might be needed to "implant" it in the dog or cat. In actuality, this isn't the case at all. The microchip is so small that your veterinarian can quickly and safely inject it under the skin of your pet's neck. If your pet is found by a rescue center or animal shelter, a handheld scanner can be held close to the animal to read the chip to gain the information needed to identify the dog or cat and contact its owner.

    Although microchip implants do not have GPS tracking capabilities, they do offer some other advantages. First, they're relatively inexpensive. The chip itself usually only costs between $20-$30, but your veterinarian may charge an additional fee to administer the injection. Secondly, unlike with GPS collars, you don't have to worry about battery life or monthly subscriptions. The one-time expenditure is all that is needed for the life of your pet. As an added advantage, since the microchip is implanted under the skin of the animal and is held in place by connective tissues, your pet won't be able to lose or remove the chip.

    On the other hand, if this is the only measure you have to locate your pet, you really are relying on the fact that someone else will find the animal and take it to a place where it can be scanned for identification. This may not be so bad if you live in a well-populated area, but even then, it does make you more dependent on others to help find your pet.

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    Making the Decision

    Since a microchip implant is so safe and inexpensive, there's really little reason not to have one for your pet even if you have very few concerns about it getting lost or running away. However, if your dog or cat spends a lot of time outdoors or has a higher risk of getting lost, it may be worth investing in a GPS collar on top of the implant. Just make sure that you do the research on the device first so you know all of its capabilities and are aware of any additional monthly fees.

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    References and Additional Resources

    HealthyPet.com, Microchipping, http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/PetCareArticle.aspx?art_key=e150cade-8ea4-4f5b-9e17-98fb56f0af1e

    Image Credit: sxc.hu/Bongani