Compulsory microchip supporters respond to fears over tumours, migration and enforcement

Created: 27/02/2013

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DEFRA, a chief vet, Dogs Trust and the Kennel Club have responded to a letter in last week’s DOG WORLD regarding compulsory microchipping.
  In it the writer, Lee Connor, voiced his concerns about the practice and expressed his surprise at the ‘widespread blanket acceptance’ of the decision to make it compulsory.
  Mr Connor said a search on the internet revealed ‘a growing number of concerns’ from pet owners expressing serious misgivings about chipping, and although implanting chips is said to be painless and ‘perfectly tolerated’ by the animal he said that tests on mice and rats had shown that it can cause tumours at the injection site.
  "Given that there are around two million dogs needing microchips in England, even taking the lower range of just one per cent of microchipped dogs developing tumours/cancer could mean at least 20,000 dogs will be afflicted,” he wrote.

Potential problems

"How strange then that EFRA called for further sanctions against dog breeders who they said are causing dogs to be bred with ill health yet they remain strangely silent on the potential problems caused by microchipping? Is Government-sanctioned ill health and disease acceptable?”
  Mr Lee also found reports of chips migrating – even to the base of the tail or between the back legs.
  "I personally do not like the thought of a foreign object being inserted into my dogs and I’m also confused by the rhetoric of microchipping being the panacea to all of dogdom’s ills,” he said, adding that he believed the new law would prompt owners to dump or kill their dogs to avoid being prosecuted for not having them chipped, and not seeking veterinary assistance when they are ill.
DW asked DEFRA to respond, and its spokesman said there had been a ‘very small’ number of reports of microchips being found at the site of a tumour. 
  "As the number is so small – only three official reports in the UK – it  is likely that this is a chance finding and that the microchip is not implicated,” she said. "It is also important to bear in mind that the dorsal neck where microchips are implanted is the same area that injections and spot-on treatments are administered. 
  "To put this into perspective, there have been in excess of six million microchips inserted in the UK over the past 15 years with around 500 adverse events reported; the vast majority of these have been migration of the microchip. On occasion a microchip may move or migrate once implanted, but this is very rare and only 0.008 per cent of microchips migrate. Very rarely does migration affect the welfare of the dog, although it may make locating the microchip more difficult if scanning is not performed properly.
  "The great majority occur in the first few months after implantation and are generally the result of poor implantation technique. It is therefore essential that only properly-trained professionals perform the procedure. The number of chips that actually fail to work is very small. "

Light touch

Regarding owners fearing prosecution, DEFRA said enforcement would be ‘light-touch’, and responsible owners did not need to worry.
  "If a dog is found to be without a microchip, say at a visit to the vet, they will be reminded of the requirement,” the spokesman said. "If a dog is found to be without a microchip by the authorities the owner will be required to urgently have the dog chipped, which may cost between £10-£30 when chipping is carried out by a vet.
  "Plus, it might be worth reminding your readers that they have until April 2016 to get their dogs chipped, and that they can get this done for free at any Dogs Trust, Battersea or Blue Cross centre. DEFRA will be working hard over the next few years to publicise this requirement to dog owners.”
  With regard to databases, she said information was held currently by four operators in the UK, and that this would continue.
  "A common portal for enquiries is being developed by the database operators so it will be quick and easy for dogs to be traced to their owners,” she added.
British Veterinary Association president elect Robin Hargreaves said he did not consider data relating to rats and mice particularly relevant.
  "I have personal experience in chipping a huge number of dogs and cats I would think that would be more relevant as they are the species in question,” he said.
  "There is a reporting system for adverse reactions, and there have been 400 reports from 500 million procedures; these might have been that the chip stopped working, the chip moved, caused problems, or didn’t do what it said on the tin. There is no evidence of an increase in tumours at the site of injection, although there is more of a question mark regarding cats in which tumours can occur at the site of repeated vaccinations. But there has been no increase when animals are chipped. I’ve been implanting microchips since 1990 and have never had a tumour, ever, and I have put in thousands.”
Nor had he experienced problems with chipping young puppies.
  "My practice regularly chips 12-week-old puppies and not one has been injured. Chips can migrate, particularly in toy breeds, but it doesn’t matter if chips go to shoulder or leg as the scanner will still pick them up.
  "Migration can be put down to inaccurate placement between shoulder blades, and people who chip animals should have a degree of competence and awareness of anatomy – they should not be put in by a lay person. People are already taking up microchipping and there is a danger that every Tom, Dick and Harry is going to decide to do it if there is no legal requirement.
  "We would like to see a level of competence and I suspect that will come in the legislation. It is not a measure that is without risk if the person doing it is inexperienced. The risk is higher in small animals – it’s a sharp instrument and the neck could be injured – so very young puppies of, say, a few days old should not be chipped, but we chip six-week-old puppies every day in large number.
  "It’s a no-brainer really. Microchipping is a fantastic and cheap rehoming tool, and if there were going to be significant problems with it we would have seen evidence of it by now.”
  The charity Dogs Trust, which has long campaigned for microchipping to be made compulsory, said there had been fewer than 500 adverse reaction reports initiated since a reporting system was introduced in 1996.
  "As more than five million microchips have been implanted in pets since then the proportion is very small, 0.008 per cent,” she said. "It is therefore essential that only properly trained professionals perform the procedure. There have been a very small number of reports of microchips being found at the site of a tumour.  As the number is so small, with only three cases officially reported in the UK, bearing in mind that the dorsal neck where microchips are implanted is the same area that injections and spot-on treatments are administered, cause and effect is not proven. The chances of a dog being lost or stolen are much greater. 
  "Chips have been developed to limit migration as much as possible, although on occasion it may move or migrate once implanted. While this does not affect the functioning of the chip it is reported as an adverse reaction and these reports account for 56 per cent of reports.
  "Very rarely does migration affect the welfare of the dog, although it may make the locating of the microchip more difficult if scanning is not performed properly. Anyone trained in microchipping should know to scan the entire body to check for a chip.”
  The decision to chip a very young or very small puppy should ultimately be at the discretion of a vet or suitably trained microchip implanter, the charity said.
  To the suggestion that abuse and neglect cases will soar because owners of unchipped animals will not seek veterinary assistance if they fall ill for fear of prosecution, the charity said: "The act of microchipping is a key intervention, providing an opportunity to advise owners about responsible dog ownership and the law. Vets won’t be enforcing the law. However, if an owner comes to a veterinary surgery with an unchipped dog, the vet will probably advise that it be chipped. Their main concern, however, is the health and welfare of the dog.
  "Microchipping will be enforced by local authorities who will only scan a dog if it is already causing concern by behaving in an out-of-control manner.”

‘Safe and reliable’

The Kennel Club said it was ‘100 per cent’ behind making microchipping compulsory, and that it firmly believed the practice was safe and reliable.
  "While Mr Lee makes some very dramatic presumptions with regards to the likely behaviour of a small minority of some irresponsible dog owners, we do not believe that the potential actions of such people should drive animal welfare policy above doing what is right for the improved welfare of the vast majority,” a spokesman said.

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