PETS IMPLANTED with microchips as part of the Pet Passport Scheme face ‘unnecessary’ surgery or lengthy stays in quarantine when the microchips fail, as they sometimes do, vets warned last week.
The PETS Travel Scheme, which was introduced in the year 2000 and has seen some 200,000 cats and dogs enter the UK without the need for quarantine, relies on the animal being identified by the implanting of a microchip under an animal's skin, which is read with a scanner to ensure it matches the paperwork.
If the microchip cannot be read, pet owners have to decide between putting the pet under anaesthetic, X-raying it and surgically removing the chip to return to the manufacturers or applying for a new passport, which takes six months.
Some vets say they are unwilling to remove chips because they deem it to be ‘not in the animals' best interests’. Conversely however, there are cases of dogs that have been stolen having their microchips removed by a simple small incision being made in the dog with a sharp blade – such as a razor blade – and the chip popped out.
If the pet is on its way home from a foreign holiday with its owners when the fault is discovered and the chip fails to scan, it must go into quarantine for up to six months while the problem is rectified.
The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) which operates the PETS scheme, records that 12,000 cats and dogs - six per cent of those with passports - have been refused entry to Britain, mostly leading to a stay in quarantine. Most of those had incomplete vaccinations, and DEFRA was unable to say how many were due to microchip failure, although the figure was ‘very small’.
Lorna Tough, whose six-year-old cocker spaniel Millie has had a pet passport for five years, discovered a fault with her microchip when she took Millie to a vet for a booster vaccination.
Miss Tough and her partner Peter Griffin have cancelled the holiday they were planning next month in France with Millie and her puppy Frankie. They have taken Millie to three vets, all of whom were unable to find the microchip, which has ‘migrated’ somewhere in the dog’s body, but were unhappy about carrying out surgery to remove it.
Miss Tough said: ‘I was very unhappy at the thought of unnecessary surgery being carried out on Millie, as we had no idea how far into her body the microchip had migrated. If I had not gone to the vet before we travelled, I would have had no idea that the microchip had failed, and Millie would have ended up in quarantine.
‘When I think of the possibility that she could be sitting in a quarantine kennel, my stomach heaves.’
David Coffey, of Claygate Veterinary Centre in Surrey and one of the vets Miss Tough saw, said: ‘I had never seen a microchip fail before but then saw two in a week, which was extraordinary. I don't think it would be right to remove the chip if it involves putting the animal through anaesthetic.
‘If you could feel it under the skin it would take a simple incision to remove it, but if you have to go deeper, it would be questionable ethically.’
A spokesman for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons said: ‘Extraction of a microchip can be a complicated procedure, and the consequences for the animal would have to be weighed against the alternative of further injections, blood tests and any potential quarantine period.’
Fred Nind, a vet and chairman of the Microchip Advisory Group of the BSAVA, which advises DEFRA, said: ‘It's not an ideal situation because we are putting an animal through something for the convenience of the owner, but that is true of other procedures such as castrating or spaying.
‘It's a popular veterinary opinion, and one that I would support, to ask in many cases whether it's actually in the pet's best interest to take it abroad at all.’
A spokesman for DEFRA said: ‘The reason the rules are so stringent is to keep serious diseases out of the country. We have to strike a balance. The scheme is in place to allow pet owners to take their animals on holiday, and many more people have benefited from it than have been inconvenienced. We do review it frequently with the veterinary profession.
‘Like any piece of technology, the microchips can fail, but the numbers are small. Vets are professionals and some may not want to follow the procedure for removing the chips. If they don't want to remove the chip, they can put in a new chip and go through the procedure again.’
The Kennel Club, which operates the PETLOG registration database or microchipped dogs commented:
‘The Kennel Club are sympathetic to Miss Tough's situation but understand the importance that Defra has to have stringent rules in place in order to protect the UK and its pets from possible diseases that may be imported from abroad through the Pet Passports scheme.
‘The Kennel Club would recommend that anyone planning on travelling with their pet checks well in advance with their vet that their pets microchip is readable before embarking on their journey.
It is reassuring to know that approximately 250,000 dogs have travelled through the scheme and there have only been a couple of cases of unreadable chips.
‘The Kennel Club strongly recommends microchipping as a permanent form of identification, and there are now over 1.8 million dogs registered on the Petlog database.’