As you may be aware there have been recent changes to the law which will affect all dog owners. From April 2016, it will be law for all dogs to be micro-chipped, and owners who do not comply – and can be traced – may be liable to a penalty via a substantial fine. The legislation aims to encourage responsible ownership, establish a safeguard by which ownership can be established and to reduce the problem of the stray dog population. It acts as a more permanent form of identification than a collar or tag which can be easily lost or removed.
Some owners may object to compulsory micro-chipping, and I thought I would try and address some concerns in this article. The chip itself is a small implant, about the size of a grain of rice, which is injected under the skin between the shoulder blades. The size of the needle can be quite scary for some owners, but I have been reliably informed that it is not so much the size of the needle that hurts, but the volume of what you inject. With this in mind, a microchip should be no more painful than a standard vaccination and less painful than many medicines injected for treating illness. It is not unusual for some animals to bleed a little flowing implantation of a microchip – but this is nothing to be concerned about – although we would normally recommend you withhold from using any spot on flea or worm treatments for 48 hours after injection of a microchip. Your pet may also be a little tender for a day or two, so it is wise to use caution when fussing or grooming them in this area. A very small number of animals will develop a small swelling at the site of the chip. This is caused by inflammation, and should settle in a week or two without the need for any intervention. Some owners have told me that they worry about the chip ‘moving’ under their pet’s skin. Modern microchips are coated to prevent this from happening and the only evidence I have seen of chips changing position are very occasionally, when they are implanted in a young animal and move with the skin as the animal grows – normally ending up sitting slightly to one side. Anyone scanning for a chip should have been trained not to miss this and there is no danger of a chip moving in such a way so as to hurt your pet.
So, once the chip has been implanted – what does it do? The chip stores a unique number which is picked up by an organisation when they scan an animal. Via means of national databases, this number is used to track the name and contact details of the registered owners who can then be informed of their pet’s whereabouts. It is therefore vitally important that owners notify the database of any changes to their personal details. There is normally a fee for this, but for people who foresee the need for frequent updates a modest upfront payment often allows for as many changes as necessary to be made as and when needed. If you are worried about the cost of the chipping itself, Dog’s Trust offer free micro-chipping (although donations will always be gratefully received!) through some of their rehoming centres.
To finish off I would like to share with you one of my favourite stories that dates back to my early days in practice. It shows not only the potential benefit of a microchip but also the bond between people and their pets and the lengths that some people will go to to achieve a happy ending! The story starts when a very poorly cat arrived as a stray at the surgery where I was working. The cat had life threatening injuries and required a complex, risky operation to survive. We needed to contact the cat’s owners to discuss their wishes and as the cat had no collar we were very relieved when we scanned it and found a microchip. I rang the UK database, and the operator told me that the chip was foreign and as such would not be registered with them. I explained the situation, and the very concerned and helpful young man told me to concentrate on caring for the cat and leave the problem of tracing the owners to him. He then rang the appropriate European database – who told him that although they knew who had manufactured and supplied the chip it had never been registered by the owners. Not one to give up he realised that the cat must have a paper trail for his journey to the UK, and set about contacting all the UK pet transport agencies and animal import authorities. It was due entirely to his perseverance that they were able to locate and supply contact details for the owner. Unfortunately these were for the UK and the owner had since returned to his country of origin, but eventually the owner’s current whereabouts were identified. I say eventually, but all this took place over the course of the morning and I was kept informed with frequent updates throughout! When we rang the owner he was shocked, but delighted. He had spent a year in the UK, but his cat had escaped within a few days of his arrival and he had not seen it since. He assumed it had been disorientated and got lost – or worse – and had eventually given up hope of him ever being returned. He had had no choice but to go home without his beloved pet. When we told him that the cat had been found and was alive – but critically ill – he told us to do whatever we could and caught the next flight over for a very special reunion. Thankfully, the cat went on to make a full recovery and eventually returned with his owner to their original home.
Both the owner and I will be eternally grateful for the help we received that day and I think between us we eventually helped make the cat very happy too! If anyone else has their own stories of microchip success stories, I would love to hear the owner’s side, too.
Enjoy the better weather with your four legged families