Risk of Microchip Implants

Microchip implants help reunite lost pets with their families.
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Like every loving dog owner, you want to ensure that you get your pooch back if he ever gets lost or runs away. Microchip identification implants, common today, are a means to that end. The use of microchip implants is not completely risk-free, but authorities including the American Veterinary Medical Association suggest that the potential benefits far exceed the risks.

Relatively Simple Procedure

While complications have occurred in a small percentage of cases, most implantations are problem-free procedures. Your veterinarian implants a microchip, about the size of a grain of rice, via a large hypodermic needle. The veterinarian will place the microchip just under your pup's skin, usually between his shoulder blades. The procedure is only as painful as a blood draw, so no anesthesia is required; however, many veterinarians recommend combining implantation with spaying or neutering procedures to eliminate any potential pain.

Microchip Methodology

Each microchip implant carries a unique identification number. If a microchipped dog becomes lost or runs away and eventually winds up at a shelter, veterinarian's office or state agency, staff at such a facility can use a handheld microchip scanner to read the information on the dog's chip. By cross-referencing your pet's identification number with a database, they can contact you and let you know they have your pooch. A microchip implant does not transmit a tracking signal -- it does not allow you to to find a dog's location -- but has a radio-frequency electromagnetic field that transmits data to the scanner.

Uncompelling Data

A 2007 literature review released by Doctor Katherine Albrecht, published on the website ChipMeNot.org rather than in a peer-reviewed journal, claims there is a causal link between implants and cancer but produces little evidence to back the assertion. Albrecht, who is a doctor of education and not a veterinarian or scientist, listed only two reports of dogs developing cancer from a microchip implant. Additionally, Albrecht references a few studies that tracked cancer rates in rodents with implants. However, some of the rodents cited in the review were genetically predisposed to developing cancer. According to Doctor Linda Lord of Ohio State University, no evidence suggests that microchip implants represent higher tumor risks for companion animals.

Data From Across the Pond

In the United Kingdom, more than half of the dog population carry microchip implants. In an effort to determine whether the chips cause health problems, the British Small Animal Veterinary Association tracks any adverse reactions associated with their use. According to the data they have collected, the chips do not appear to present much of an elevated risk: The association has documented only two tumors related to the implants in more than 10 years of study. In total, the association documented only 391 adverse reactions in more than 4 million animals. Most of these bad reactions involved a chip that migrated away from the injection site.

Doubling Up

Despite the safety and efficacy of microchip implants, they are not perfect, and dog owners should use them in conjunction with collars and identification tags. While a microchip implant cannot detach from a dog, sometimes, veterinarians or shelters are unable to detect implants. Additionally, because the United States does not regulate standards for microchip implants, different manufacturers produce implants that work at different frequencies. Fortunately, universal scanners that can detect all pet microchip frequencies are becoming more common, increasing the chance that you will reunite with your beloved pooch.