As the success of pet recovery using microchips continues to rise, more and more people are implanting their pets with these devices.
A microchip is 12mm by 2mm, takes seconds to inject, and is designed to last for the life of your pet.
Sound like a sweet deal? In truth, once you’ve had a chip implanted in your cat, there are a plethora of hurdles to jump through to keep your microchip successful.
Microchipping is A Delicate Procedure
The implantation of a microchip looks simple: a needle is inserted under the cat’s skin and the microchip is injected.
However, it’s actually a delicate procedure that should only be performed by a trained professional.
Jamie Bell, with Cat Veteran, reports that it’s safe to microchip a cat once they’re eight weeks old and weaned.
According to the Drake Center for Veterinary Care, microchipping feels similar to a blood draw (although the needle is slightly larger).
Bell reminds us that, while most cats don’t require anesthesia (which puts a cat at risk for more side effects), an aggressive, anxious, or squirmy cat may need sedation for proper implantation.
Procedures Can’t Be Unprofessional
The act of breaking a cat’s skin comes with possible side effects. Most of these come from the risk of infection.
An infected injection can cause swelling and draining of fluid or pus through an oozing sore.
More severe side effects have been associated with the improper placement of a microchip.
An injection too close to the spine causes temporary paralysis. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) reports another case:
A young cat’s microchip injection was far too forceful; the injection caused limb weakness and quick breathing.
The microchip had to be removed with surgery and resulted in lingering, mild neurological symptoms.
Additionally, injecting the microchip too deep can prevent a scanner from reading it. For these reasons, it’s clearly necessary to have microchipping done by a trusted professional.
Remember to Register Your Microchip!
This side effect comes from human error. Just implanting the chip doesn’t complete the process. When a chip is scanned, the reader produces a number.
In order for a chip’s number to lead its owner, it needs to be registered with its manufacturer.
Once a chip is registered, the manufacturer keeps your information connected to your number in their database.
Ingrid King, of The Conscious Cat, reports that companies charge a fee for this; some charge for updating your address or phone number.
Ramona Marek, a vet at Tufts University, tells us that an astounding 6 out of 10 implanted microchips are never registered.
Marek also states that some companies purchase cheaply made chips from overseas manufacturers.
These can have a random code or a 900-number, which are not assigned to manufacturers.
These numbers can be nearly impossible to trace. Before microchipping your pet, ask your vet what number is assigned to the chip.
If it is a 900-number, you need to register it with several of the most well-known chip companies.
This way, if your cat is lost and found, there is a higher chance that a vet or shelter will be able to find your information.
Chip Malfunction Means Chip Failure
A microchip is an RFID device. When an RFID scanner is on, it emits energy; when it passes over the chip, the chip absorbs the energy and uses it to send its frequency signal back to the reader. Different scanners read different frequencies.
As with any technology, microchips aren’t foolproof. The US doesn’t require that all microchips use the same frequency.
Not all vets and shelters are able to read every microchip frequency, as RFID scanners are expensive.
The AVMA explains that in the past, shelters have unknowingly euthanized microchipped pets because they weren’t able to read the chip.
This can happen for three different reasons: one, the microchip itself was broken or malfunctioning; two, the shelter didn’t have the right scanner for the particular chip; or three, the chip couldn’t be located or read.
An active, functioning chip can still be missed by the correct scanner. Long or matted hair above the chip, too much fat around the chip, a metal collar (or collar with lots of metal on it), and even a squirming cat can prevent a clear scan.
Medical Side Effects Do Happen
A veterinary association in England tabulates reported microchip problems from around the world. Briarcliff Animal Clinic sums up the statistics:
From 1996-2011, 391 out of over 4 million pets have experienced a side effect from receiving a microchip implant. The majority of these were minor, though there were some severe cases.
The top side effect of microchipping a cat is chip migration. A chip is usually injected between the shoulder blades. As a cat grows, the chip can migrate—or move around—inside the cat and get lost.
Sometimes, these chips can slide under a shoulder blade or near a joint and become uncomfortable with the cat. A migrated chip requires a full-body scan to be found.
Cancer Studies Are Controversial
The research and statistics gathered regarding a correlation between microchipping and cancer are controversial.
A few cats have reportedly developed cancer near their microchip injection site; this is extremely rare and possibly coincidental.
Jamie Bell explains that studies have been conducted that showed high rates of cancer in microchipped rats and mice.
However, the biological systems of cats are different than those of rats or mice. Scientists aren’t sure if the study correlates to cats at all.
Most importantly—as Ingrid King states—we don’t actually have enough data to know.
The AVMA reports details of the study and agrees that the results are inconclusive.
A Cat Microchipping In Action
In this YouTube video, Steve Dale (a certified animal behavior consultant) talks through the reasons for microchipping an indoor cat.
Towards the end, you can watch Dr. Shelley Ruben inject a microchip into Dale’s cat; it’s quick and simple.