Microchip Fears

Lately there has been a lot of social media chatter regarding the dangers of microchips in pets. Before we talk about the pitfalls, let's look at some statistics regarding the benefits of having a microchip implanted in your pet.

The American Humane Association estimates over 10 million dogs and cats are lost or stolen in the U.S. every year. One in three pets will become lost at some point during their life. I've had it happen myself. Gates have been left open, dogs have escaped. Luckily, I have always had my pets returned.

A friend recently had her dog run off during a frightening storm; she was found 24 hours later two miles away from home, thanks to posted signs and social media. However, when the pet was found the person wanted to keep the dog and had no intention of returning her to her family; her daughter convinced her otherwise. Many times, people who find lost pets decide the owner was irresponsible if the pet was running loose. But we all know that accidents can happen, no matter how careful we are.

A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association showed that only about 22 percent of lost dogs that enter animal shelters are reunited with their families. However, the return-to-owner rate for microchipped dogs was over 52 percent. Less than 2 percent of lost cats that enter the animal shelters are reunited with their families. The return-to-owner rate for microchipped cats was dramatically higher, at over 38 percent.

However, in order for the chip to get your pet back home, you must register your pet's information in the microchip database. Statistics show, only 58 percent of microchips are actually registered in a database with their pet parent’s contact information.

Of course, even when there is proof that microchips provide a benefit, there will always be naysayers. Personally, I have only seen ONE microchip reaction in my practice since they were introduced in 1990. The chip was implanted between the shoulders of a greyhound. When adopted, the dog seemed irritated and wanted to scratch the area. Eventually, a small lesion appeared over the area of implantation, developing over time into a blister. It was obvious the dog was having a reaction to the microchip. Removal was easy, requiring a small incision and a couple of stitches. Healing occurred uneventfully. Sometimes the body will treat the chip as a piece of foreign material (which it is) and try to force it out. Yes, it could also form scar tissue around the chip, trying to wall it off from the surrounding tissues. Potentially, this could form a tumor.

The posts I have seen on social media are stating that microchips are causing fibrosarcomas, mast cell tumors, and other horrific reactions. However, there is a problem that everyone tends to overlook: any injection given between the shoulder blades at any time during the life of the pet could be responsible for the tumor formation. How many times have you seen your veterinarian or technician grab the skin between the shoulders and jab a vaccination or other injection under the skin over the shoulder area? It is a common practice.  We KNOW that dogs and cats can make tumors surrounding vaccination sites. They can also form tumors around any injection site. The more preservatives, like mercury, in the injected solution, the more reaction will form. Most published studies I found were quoted out of context by people against microchips; they chose the words saying there was a possible correlation, but ignored the text containing the other possible causes for the tumor production.

There have been many lawsuits brought against the companies that make and sell microchips. Some are still pending. Some pets have died due to operator error when the chip was implanted. One report showed a chip implanted into the brain stem of a small dog. I cannot fathom how someone managed to do that, but this illustrates the importance of having a trained professional insert the chip in a size- and age-appropriate pet.

There have been laboratory studies showing cancerous growths at the site of injection in some rats and mice. The percentages are small, but the risk does exist. The proven percentages in dogs were MUCH lower.

So before you jump on the band wagon of one side or the other, consider the risks and benefits. All my dogs and cats have chips; some have multiple chips after passing through the hands of multiple rescue groups. I consider myself fortunate that none of my pets have had a reaction. While I am a holistic doctor and prefer to keep my pets as natural as possible, I also realize that accidents can happen: gates can be left open by visitors, pets can find new ways to escape, rescue workers may not realize pets are in the home during an emergency, a pet can escape if you are in a car accident.

It's your choice. Make the decision based on your pet's and your lifestyle.