If you adopted your dog from a shelter or rescue, he’s highly likely to have a microchip. If your dog didn’t come to you already micro-chipped, then you can choose whether to get him one or not.
But in some countries, dog owners don’t have a choice. ALL dogs are required, by law, to be micro-chipped.
The UK is one recent example. Many dog owners there are up in arms because, starting in April 2016, the government has mandated compulsory micro-chipping for all dogs.
Of course, the government is publicizing it as a great benefit for dog owners – free (or low cost) microchips for all dogs! Hooray! That’s great for everyone because if your dog gets lost or stolen, you’ll be able to get him back and there’s less risk of him being euthanized in a shelter.
You don’t microchip your dog and you’re caught? You’re up for a £500 fine (about US$665). That’s a pretty steep fine.
Microchips, also known as RFIDs (standing for radio frequency identification), have their pros and cons. When you make a decision about micro-chipping your pet, there are a few things you
The Pro (There’s Really Only One)
But it’s a big one. If you have a dog who’s an escape artist, the benefits of microchips are obvious. Most vet clinics and shelters have scanners, so, as long as you’ve kept your dog’s microchip registration up to date, there’s a decent probability your lost dog will get home.
It happened to me … I was away on a business trip and got a call from my dog’s microchip company while waiting for a flight at Miami Airport. Friends were pet-sitting and some builders working next door left the yard gate open. Muddy went off to explore the neighborhood but fortunately was safely back with my friends within the hour after the man who found him called the microchip company.
That’s the good part.
But it doesn’t always work that way. There are many downsides too. And the most important one is the risk of cancer.
Veterinarians and microchip manufacturers have long pooh-poohed the idea that there’s any significant risk of tumors developing at the microchip site. They cite studies that found only two dogs developed cancer out of millions of micro-chipped canines.
Other studies have found that rats and mice have developed tumors that appeared to be caused by microchips. The website antichips.com summarizes a number of relevant studies.
- A 1999 study by Blanchard et al reported cancer incidence in 177 mice to be a little over 10 percent after a six month exposure to the microchips.
- In 2006 French researchers Le Calvez et al reported malignant tumors in 4.1 percent of 1,260 micro-chipped mice. The study attributed the cancers directly to the microchips, and most of the animals with micro-chip associated tumors died prematurely.
- In 1997, a study by Tillmann et al in Germany found subcutaneous soft tissue tumors at the site of implanted microchips in 1 percent of 4,279 chipped mice. The authors stated “the neoplasms induced in the present investigation are clearly due to the implanted microchips.”
Are Mice And Rats Relevant To The Risks To Dogs?
Some vets seem to dismiss these studies involving rats and mice as being irrelevant to dogs. But there are quite a lot of real life cases where dogs have been harmed. Little by little, the stories are coming out.
With the controversy about the UK legislation, there are increasing reports of pets developing fatal tumors at the microchip site – and in many cases the micro-chip is found embedded at the base of the tumor.
A Few Scary Stories
Dogs Monthly Magazine in the UK gathered several anecdotes about pet owners who had microchips implanted without knowing the risks beforehand … and they were horrified when their animals developed cancer.
- A Border Collie developed a golf ball sized tumor in her neck. Surgical removal and a nine week hospital stay racked up £5,500 (about $7,200) in vet bills and left the dog with a gaping hole in her neck as well as mental damage. Even though the microchip was connected to the tumor, the manufacturer denied the tumor was due to the chip and offered the owner £100 as a goodwill gesture.
- A Yorkshire terrier became terminally ill after a malignant lymphoma grew between his shoulder blades where the chip was implanted. The chip was embedded in the tumor. The manufacturer paid the owner $300 – a far cry from the $4,000-plus she spent on the dog’s treatment.
- A breeder micro-chipped a six month old Bull Mastiff puppy but didn’t tell the new owners. They had a chip implanted at their local humane society so the dog ended up with two chips. (That also begs the question, why didn’t the person who implanted the second chip scan the dog for a chip first?). At five years old, the dog developed a tumor at the implant site; it was removed to find one chip in the center of the mass and the other right alongside it. Sadly a new mass formed just months later and the dog was euthanized to alleviate his suffering.
Some people maintain that tumors like these could also have been caused by vaccination, because many vaccinations are given in the same place, right between the shoulder blades. It’s certainly a possibility. There are many documented instances of cancer occurring at vaccination sites.
But a microchip embedded in the tumor? It’s easy to conclude that the chip was the cause.
Cancer isn’t the only problem with microchips.
Other Reasons To Avoid Microchips
Implanting Is Painful
Some vets use a local anesthetic to implant microchips – and they should. Dr Karen Becker says implantation uses a really large 12-gauge needle to implant the chips and that, no matter what you’ve been told, the procedure hurts! But many microchip proponents insist it’s a painless process. Don’t believe them!
Implanting Can Be Risky
There are horror stories of chips being implanted incorrectly into the spinal canal, causing paralysis or other neurological damage. Other animals have bled to death after blood vessels were punctured when the chip was implanted. A kitten died when a chip was inserted into its brain stem.
So if you do decide to microchip your dog, make sure the procedure is done by an experienced veterinarian, not by a technician or even a shelter employee.
The chip is usually inserted between the shoulder blades. But they can move to another place in the body, making them hard or impossible to find when the dog is scanned for a chip. Depending on where the chip ends up in your dog’s body, migration could cause your dog pain or other health issues.
Microchips Are Unreliable
The plain truth is that microchips don’t always work and aren’t always found by the scanners. There are different brands of microchips and most vet clinics and shelters use universal scanners, but they don’t always pick up the chip in a scan.
And sometimes the microchips just fail. I’ve had two adopted dogs who I knew had chips implanted at shelters (I’d been given the numbers and registration forms) but when my vet scanned them, the microchips didn’t show up.
Microchips Are Only As Good As The Registration
You must register your contact details with the microchip company and keep the records updated if you change your phone number or move. Otherwise if your dog gets lost with a chip registered to the previous owner, you might not get him back.
You Still Don’t Always Get Your Dog Back
There are heartbreaking stories of dogs getting lost, then found and “adopted” by other people. Microchips are not proof of ownership so if someone else claims your dog, the fact that the chip is registered to you doesn’t guarantee you’ll get your dog back.
The Old Fashioned Way: Is It Better?
So, there are lots of reasons why you might not want your dog to have a microchip.
Some people prefer tattoos, which are done under anesthesia, usually on your dog’s inner thigh. But then you have to keep the same phone number for your dog’s life! Tattoos can fade too.
The old fashioned way is a collar and tag. It works pretty well as long as your dog doesn’t lose his collar. So make sure his collar is strong, fits well and has an up to date, firmly fastened tag.
Is Broader Legislation On The Way?
In the header, I asked the question “could this happen here?”
The answer is, yes, it certainly could – no matter where “here” is. In fact, it’s already the law in several countries.
Chipmenot.org has gathered information on micro-chipping laws around the world.
The US states shown on the map below already have legislation about micro-chipping. In several states micro-chipping is already compulsory for shelter pets before adoption.
Canada doesn’t currently require micro-chipping. (Dogs imported for breeding or commercial purposes must be micro-chipped.)
In some countries (including the US) there’s discussion of involuntary micro-chipping of humans too. It could happen to prisoners, legal immigrants, guest workers, sex offenders and even police. There’s also talk of implanting microchips in humans for medical tracking purposes.
Sound a bit like a sinister sci-fi movie? Maybe … but the FDA approved microchips for humans in 2004, so the possibility is real.
So if you find me wandering around lost when I get old(er) and (more) senile, please scan me and return me to my family. Unless I get cancer from the microchip and die first.