The actual size of a pet microchip is about the size of a grain of rice.
There are many good reasons for micro-chipping birds and parrots. If the bird is lost or stolen they can easily be identified and returned or identified as a stolen bird. The theft of birds is increasing. A lot of birds escape because of the owner’s mistaken belief that clipping a bird’s wings prevents flight. Micro-Chipping costs range anywhere from $40 – $150 for the microchip and that doesn’t include the expense that you may incur if there’s a medical complication from the microchip process. Some Micro-Chipping Registries also charge an annual fee.
Of all the identification devices for birds, the microchip is the best. It’s easy enough to remove a leg band, and tattoos can be altered and can also get caught on toys and accessories in the cage. Although DNA fingerprinting is available it can be very expensive. Thus micro-chipping is probably the best permanent way to prove the bird is yours unless there’s something really unique about it.
Micro-chipping has been available for a while and has been used for domestic, farm, and zoo animals. Basically, a microchip is a transponder about the size of a grain of rice encased in an inert material, glass – so animals don’t react to it. Chips have no moving parts nor do they have a power supply. If you look at one closely you’ll see copper wire at one end which is the antenna and then depending upon who’s chip you use it will contain a 10 to 13 digit alphanumeric code that makes individual chips unique.
To insert the microchip in your bird the chip is loaded into a syringe. The syringe needle is about the size of an African grays toenail. The first thing the vet will do is pass the microchip reader over the chip to make sure the chip is working. The reader that the vet is holding sends out a low-frequency radio wave which makes the chip active and a number appears in the microchip reader. The number is recorded by the vet. The average chip has a life of around 25 years or so but because there are no moving parts chips last a very long time. If you have a larger bird like a Cockatoo or Macaw that can live 75 or more years you can probably plan on the expense of removing an older chip surgically and then replacing it far down the road.
After it’s been confirmed that chip is functioning properly it’s time to restrain the bird. Usually, the vet will simply ice the area where the chip is to be inserted because it’s just like giving them a shot but with a larger needle. Other vets will use isoflurane anesthesia. Ice will help to minimize the potential for bleeding and bruising. Although swelling can occur it usually doesn’t happen and the ice helps ensure this.
The microchip is injected into the breast muscle of the bird. With dogs and cats chips are implanted subcutaneously but because a bird’s skin is so thin over the breast muscle the subcutaneous space is much too narrow and if implanted there it could be seen and would eventually bulge and possibly cause irritation enabling the bird to easily chew it out. The bird might get more ice again before passing the microchip reader over the bird once again to make sure the chip is still working. The whole process usually takes just a few minutes.
Once the microchip is placed in the bird’s chest it doesn’t move. Early on microchips had some problem with movement within the animal’s body but the newer generation of microchips are treated so that scar tissue is encouraged to wrap around it which anchors the unit in place.
We know of a few companies that produce microchips which are AVID (American Veterinary Identification Devices) and HomeAgain. Digital Angel Corp has developed a microchip that not only sends out an ID number but it takes the temperature of the animal and is called a “bio-thermal” microchip.
Cockatiels and smaller birds like parakeets are considered too small for micro-chipping. As a rule of thumb birds, less than 100 g shouldn’t have a microchip implanted (although some vets prefer 200 g and larger). On rare occasions a vet can surgically implant a microchip in a small bird but as I said this is quite rare. The age of the bird that vets like to perform this procedure upon will vary.
Notable is that not all microchips are the same and they cannot all be picked up by every scanner even universal ones. In 1996 the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) adopted the 134.2 kHz frequency for pet microchips because they felt this would solve incompatibility issues. Unfortunately, the United States was already using the 125 kHz microchip.
It’s generally agreed that changing to the ISO standard would be both complicated and costly. There are universal scanners that can read different frequencies but most animal shelters don’t have these. Making things even more complicated is companies that make microchips don’t want the universal scanner to be compatible with their own equipment. In 2006 President Bush signed a bill that authorized the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) with standardizing microchips. The problem is that APHIS only has authority over organizations that are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act which means that it can’t tell private pet owners and retail businesses what to do. One Microchip company, Bainfield, recommends that a pet gets two microchips one with each frequency.
It’s important to remember that the microchip connects software that has your contact information like your name and address but if you fail to modify the information after moving or changing a phone number it may be difficult to get in touch with you.
My motivation for writing this article was a thread on LinkedIn on the African Grey Parrot Lovers Group. A participant stated that she had heard that microchips can cause cancer. Most of the responses in the group were sure that she was incorrect.
Although the jury is still out, many believe more research needs to be done because of the inconclusive evidence found from testing. There are those that argue that the evidence only applies to rats and mice because these tumors have not shown up in the general pet population having been microchipped.
Written by Mitch Rezman
Approved by Catherine Tobsing