Much like the topic of animal vaccinations, animal microchipping is a source of heated discussion among pet-owners. “They just end up getting lost in the body” and “They cause cancer”, are a couple of the most common dissenting views. However, the overwhelming majority within the animal healthcare and animal rescue community report that microchipping saves countless lives because it gives the animal a solid opportunity to be reunited with its owner before it is placed on a shelter’s euthanasia list.
What exactly is a Microchip?
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) gives a perfect definition:
“Implantable microchips are cylindrical devices that are implanted in the subcutaneous tissues using a hypodermic needle. These devices contain four components: a capacitor, antenna, connecting wire, and a covering. The devices are battery-free and sealed in biocompatible glass covered by a sheath to prevent migration. Microchips are activated by a low-power radio frequency signal emitted by scanners; electromagnetic induction generates electricity in the antenna and transmits the information stored in the chip. When activated by the scanner, the microchip transmits a unique, pre-programmed identification number.” (4)
Are microchips dangerous?
The idea that microchips are dangerous is much too broad to be considered a fact. Home implantation of a microchip can be dangerous for your pet, especially if you are totally unqualified to perform the task. The AVMA lists some severely negative symptoms that resulted from the home implantation of a microchip, including one report that examines an owner who forcefully implanted a microchip into the spinal cord of his personal feline, causing the cat numerous neurological defects that lasted even after the chip was removed. (4) This manner of inappropriate microchip implantation had similar consequences in a few reported cases involving small-breed puppies. (4)
The fact is, microchips should only be implanted by qualified animal health service professionals. The AVMA has published a lengthy standard for the recommended location of microchip implantation and vaccinations. (4) Following these recommendations is the best way to ensure that your pet does not suffer any adverse reactions to implantation. Many veterinarians will also recommend that microchip implantation takes place when your pet is already under sedation for a separate procedure, like a teeth cleaning or spay/neuter, or that a local anesthetic is used to prevent your pet from experiencing any unnecessary discomfort from the initial implantation. In reality, any type of procedure that involves inserting a foreign object, vaccinations or otherwise, into your pet’s body should be discussed and handled by your veterinarian or a skilled veterinary technician.
Can a microchip get lost?
The idea that microchips get lost is another theory that is far too broad to be reasonable. Several studies have shown that microchips implanted in the elbows and shoulder blades of canines are more likely to migrate to other parts of the body; however,the previously mentioned AVMA standards for implantation and vaccination locations has served to decrease the number of reported migrations by nearly 90%. (4) This decrease in reported cases of microchip migration has occurred due to growing knowledge of the most advantageous area of an animal to implant the chip.
Discussing your concerns about the migration of your pet’s microchip with your veterinarian will reveal whether your vet is familiar with the best location for implantation, and can provide you with additional biological information regarding why this specific location is widely recommended.
The AVMA additionally provides one reported case of a microchip that was present but did not respond to scanning. (4) This type of internal failure is rarely reported and should not be expected.
Can microchips cause Cancer?
This theory could be considered true; studies have shown that microchips do commonly cause the growth of sarcomas, in rats. The AVMA states, “The risk of foreign body-induced tumors is affected by duration, species, and size.” (4) The surface area of a microchip takes up more space within the body of small animal, like a rat, than it does in a larger animal, like a domesticated dog or cat. This means that a much smaller body is more likely to react negatively to the introduction of a foreign object, like a microchip. The AVMA goes into further detail about the suspected variables that increase a lab rat’s susceptibility to these sarcomas (I invite you to follow the link in the citations to read the whole article), but their overall evaluation of sarcoma development as a result of microchip implantation shows that reports of cancer caused directly by microchipping in canines and felines are rare. (4)
Can microchips save lives?
Aimee Gilbreath and Erin Nelson, of the Found Animals Foundation, report that, “of the 165 million pets in the United States, every year approximately 3% go missing. That’s 4.5 million pets lost each year, and approximately 1 million are never returned to their families. (2) If even half of those 1 million pets had microchips, our homeless animal population would be considerably less. Lord’s study of animals with microchips entering shelters revealed that, “the high rate for return of microchipped dogs and cats to their owners supports microchipping as a valuable permanent pet identification modality.” (3) This study showed that over 70% of the stray cats and dogs admitted to the shelters surveyed were successfully returned to their owner because of the presence of an implanted microchip. (3)
Options for low-cost microchipping are available all over the valley. The cost of the initial procedure far outweighs the cost and time that a pet owner will spend if their pet goes missing. Additionally, most local county shelters will only hold a stray animal for up to 72 hours before considering them as available for adoption, or placing them on the Euthanasia-list. If an owner is unable to locate their animal within that 72 hour period, their pet could possibly be lost to them forever.
Any form of pet-identification is going to increase the chances that a lost pet is returned; however, when tags and collars go missing, a microchip is a valuable way of ensuring that a lost pet has a greater chance of return. It is important to point out that the value of this method is only as good as its accuracy. Keeping your pet’s microchip information up-to-date with current contact information will increase the likelihood that the pet will make it home.
Veterinarian, Dr. Karen Becker states, “as with any medical procedure, you have to weigh the risks versus the benefits, and in this case it’s often a very individual decision.” (1) If your animal shows a high-risk of escape or running away, the benefit of a microchip could save you time, money, and worry spent on attempting to locate them. Microchipping your companion animal has a proven value for both the health of your pet and the welfare of the homeless animal community.
If your pet is not currently microchipped, please discuss the option with your veterinarian!
(1) Becker, Karen. How Safe are Pet Microchips?. 2010. Heathypets.Mercola.com. (http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2009/11/14/how-safe-are-pet-microchips.aspx) Accessed August 4, 2015.
(2) Gilbreath, Aimee & Nelson, Erin. Simplifying Microchips: Educate Adopters, Track Down Chips, and Boost Redemptions. 2013. AnimalSheltering.org. (http://www.animalsheltering.org/training-events/expo/expo-2013/expo-2013-handouts/simplifying-microchips-gilbreath1.pdf) Accessed August 4, 2015.
(3) Lord, Lk Et.al. Characterization of animals with microchips entering animal shelters. 2009 July. Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association. 15;235(2): 160-7. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19601734) Accessed August 4, 2015.
(4) Microchipping of Animals. 2013 June. American Veterinary Medical Association. (https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/Pages/Microchipping-of-Animals-Backgrounder.aspx) Accessed August 3, 2015.