Microchip vs. GPS: Which is Better for Finding a Lost Pet?

The experts at Tractive break down different types of pet tracking technology

We're pleased to present expert insights about pet tracking technology from pet tech industry leader Tractive. If you've ever wondered what the difference is between GPS, microchips, and Bluetooth, Tractive explains the ins and outs of these tech tools that help us keep track of our four-legged friends. 

Did you know your pet's microchip will not help locate them if they go missing? Microchips can only help identify them after they've been found. But to keep your pet safe, you want to make sure they never go missing in the first place. That's where GPS trackers like Tractive come in. With live GPS tracking technology, you can pinpoint your furry friend’s exact location instantly -- saving you a lot of panic and heartache.

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Here's the bottom line:

A pet owner's first line of defense against a missing/lost pet is GPS tracking. A microchip is valuable for identification after your cat or dog goes missing (which is still very important), but a GPS tracker can prevent that from happening to begin with.

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The difference between GPS tracking and microchips

Studies show the vast majority of pet owners aren't aware there is a difference between microchips and GPS trackers, which is potentially dangerous misinformation. The most common misconception is that if their pet runs away, their microchip will help locate them, which is impossible.

In reality, a microchip is solely used for identification and contact purposes after your pet has been found. For that to happen, your pet has to be found by a kind stranger and brought to a shelter or veterinarian's office for the chip to be scanned. Additionally, you need to make sure that your contact information with the microchip company is up to date, something many pet owners neglect to check.

Pet GPS trackers like Tractive provide you with 24/7 live location updates for your pet, no matter where you are in the world. Tractive works with all major cell network providers to ensure the most accurate GPS coverage, which is delivered right to your phone. With the Virtual Fence feature, you can even set "safe zones" for your pet, and Tractive will alert you the instant your cat leaves the designated zone. From there, you can enter LIVE tracking mode, instantly zone in on their location, and bring them home safely.

Pet identification and tracking pros and cons

There are several options for keeping track of your dog or cat. Microchips help identify a pet and contact the owner if found, GPS trackers like Tractive give live updates if you've got a runner, and Bluetooth trackers like an AirTag can help you keep tabs while pets are close.

Tractive breaks down the pros and cons of each option to help you make the best choice for your pet. 

Pet GPS tracker pros and cons

GPS Pros
pro Worldwide coverage with GPS technology
pro Unlimited range, which lets you see where your cat or dog is, no matter how far
pro Allows for real-time location tracking
pro GPS trackers can also help use location data to show how active your buddy has been, which helps you keep them in shape
pro Precise localization
pro No base station required
GPS cons
con Sometimes GPS interference might occur (for example indoors)
con Dependent on mobile signal, therefore a subscription is required

Pet Bluetooth tracker pros and cons

Bluetooth pros
pro Long battery life (months to years)
pro Can usually be attached to any surface or collar
pro Very exact localization, but only within limited range
pro Lower costs (starting at $25 for a Bluetooth tracker compared to $49 for a GPS tracker)
pro Generally small and lightweight, although size varies
Bluetooth cons
con Very limited range (10 – 60 meters)
con Made for tracking items, not pets
con Requires Bluetooth on your phone
con Limited features for pet parents
con If your pet is out of Bluetooth range, the tracker will try to use someone else’s phone nearby to get a location
con Could be swallowed by a pet

Pet microchip tracker pros and cons

Microchip pros
pro Implanted under skin (can’t be lost)
pro Used for identification purposes after pet is found and brought to vet or shelter
pro Provides your contact information when scanned
pro Does not need rechargeable battery
Microchip cons
con Cannot help locate your pet
con Owner must remember to update contact information
con Pet must be found and brought to veterinarian or shelter in order for chip to be scanned
con No additional features (activity monitoring, location history, virtual fence)
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Final thoughts

Whether your four-legged friend spends most of their time indoors, outdoors, or both—Tractive GPS ensures their safety should the worst happen. All pet owners want to keep their pets safe, and having both a microchip and Tractive GPS gives the ultimate peace of mind, and the ultimate protection for your pet.

Learn more in our full Tractive review

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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