By now, most of us have heard of at least one tearful success story in the national news of a lost pet reunited with its family only after having been identified by an implanted microchip. Most of these stories garner media attention only when the animal has made an extraordinary journey. It is less recognized, however, how often these devices assist locally displaced or wandering animals. At our hospital, we are asked with increasing frequency, often several times a week, to scan for and identify lost and wandering pets by their microchip.
Pet microchips utilize radio frequency identification technology (RFID), similar to the technology most of us use daily in our E-Zpass® toll devices. The implanted device is about the size of a grain of rice and is injected under the skin between the shoulder blades where it remains inert until activated by a scanner targeting a specific frequency. When scanned, radio waves generate an electrical impulse that is processed by the microchip and relayed back to the scanner in the form of a numeric identifying number.
Over the years, the safety of implanting microchip devices has been closely scrutinized by the public, animal health providers and scientists alike. There have been several sensationalized stories in the media linking microchip implantation to cancer. While there are rare instances in which microchips have been suspected of causing a localized tumor, this risk is infinitesimally small--no greater than the risk of developing a tumor from a splinter, other medical implants or even routine injections.
The British Small Animal Veterinary Association has been tracking adverse reactions related to microchip implantation since 1996, and in over 3.7 million registered pets there have been just two cases of a tumor developing at the site of injection. The most common issue noted, although also infrequent, is migration of the microchip. This is improving with newer generation microchips designed to attach to tissues more quickly and securely. Other reactions reported are rare and consistent with that of any injection, and include localized infection, hair loss or swelling.
While microchips are often implanted by non-veterinarians, under New York State law it is considered a veterinary practice and should be performed by, or under the supervision of, a veterinarian. Having your veterinarian implant the microchip also has added safeguards: it significantly decreases the potential for adverse reactions, ensures the use of a reputable ISO standardized 134.2 mHz microchip and provides a fail-safe when databases do not have current contact information for pet owners. In the event of inaccurate owner contact information, microchips can be tracked to the veterinary office where this vital information is maintained.
Combined with traditional ID tags and collars, microchips are a safe and important tool in preventing pet theft, tracking their health, and most importantly reuniting lost animals with their families. If you have not yet had your pet micro-chipped, please consider this potentially life-saving procedure. Talk to your veterinarian to determine if microchip implantation is the right choice for you and your pet.
Thank you for continuing to trust Rhinebeck Animal Hospital as part of your pet's health care team!
With warmest regards,