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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Removing Microchips?

I have other emails that readers have sent me that are older than Mandie's, but hers really struck my interest, and is something I've never written about.  So hers goes first!

I would like to know the reality of removing a microchip from a pet. I adopted a dog from a "rescue" (one slightly neurotic woman) and have had the dog for 3 years. She refuses to transfer ownership of the microchip to me, preferring instead to simply add my information to hers. I'm sorry, but if my dog gets lost, I want to be sure I am the one that is called first, not her. I don't feel this is right. So I am wondering if it would be difficult, painful or dangerous to the dog to simply have the current one removed and my own put in. My dog is also only 3 pounds so I am worried of putting her at risk. 

One of the best things about microchips is that they are essentially permanent, and it is nearly impossible to remove one.  In the majority of situations this is a huge benefit, as someone can't simply make an incision and take out the chip, thus the identification of the owner is difficult to change.  However, this benefit turns into a major hassle in a situation like Mandie's.

I've never personally removed a microchip and would need a darn good reason to try.  These chips are small and are inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades.  When trying to remove one it can be a huge challenge because when it's been in place for a while it's nearly impossible to precisely identify the chip's location.  It should still be subcutaneous, but that can be a rather large area even in a tiny dog.  To fully explore the area I would need to make an incision several inches long and then carefully tease apart ("dissect") the tissues in the area and hope to find it.  If I was lucky it would be a minor surgery of only a few minutes duration.  However, if it was particularly deep it would take much longer and cause more trauma (though this should heal).

An x-ray may be able to localize the microchip a bit.  They show up very clearly on radiographic images and you could get a good idea of around which vertebrae it is.  However, there is still some movement so there would still be some exploration necessary.

Mandie, I sincerely sympathize with this situation, and agree that the previous owner is being unreasonable.  Your situation is certainly one in which I personally would consider the attempt at removal, though I wouldn't go against any other vet who refused to do so.  It wouldn't be easy.  The size of the dog in this case may actually be a benefit, as sometimes the chip can be felt under the skin in very small pets, and the area that would need to be searched is much smaller.  

If this was my patient, I'd first try to feel it.  If I could, it should be a minor procedure to remove it.  If it wasn't palpable I'd recommend x-rays to get a better idea of the specific location.  Then I'd have a long talk about the safety of anesthesia and surgery.  Mandie, this is something to discuss with your own vet, as there are different methods of anesthesia and different drugs, some safer than others.

I wish you the best of luck!