In the UK it has been law since 2006 that all puppies must be microchipped and registered by 8 weeks old. Many people also choose to microchip their cats if they are allowed to roam outside. However, the number of people with “exotic” pets such as reptiles is now on the rise, and many of their owners may not realise that these more unusual pets can also benefit from having a microchip.
What is a microchip?
A microchip is a small grain of rice sized (or smaller!) device that is placed either in the muscle or under the pet’s skin. The chip contains a unique number that is stored on a database alongside contact details for the pet’s registered owner. It is considered the gold standard of identification. Not only can microchips be used across a huge range of species, but they are also very unlikely to go missing, and are very hard to tamper with. The location of the chip will vary depending on the species.
Where does it go?
Traditionally in dogs and cats, the chip is inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades. This is possible in some exotic pets such as rabbits and ferrets but other pets may need the chip to be put in an alternative location.
Tortoises and lizards will usually have the chip put into the muscle or under the skin of the left hind leg, depending on the size and species. However, some lizards may have legs too small for the microchip, so will need to have the chip in their flank. Snakes usually have the microchip in their left flank.
Is it safe?
Initially, putting the chip in may be uncomfortable as it is inserted using a large needle. However, the procedure is over very quickly and results in no long term pain. Microchip insertion carries very few risks and is a very safe procedure when carried out by a professional such as a vet or vet nurse.
Are there any legal considerations?
All dogs in the UK require a microchip by law. In addition to this, any dogs, cats or ferrets wishing to travel within the EU require a microchip in accordance with the pet travel scheme. This (currently!) allows them to move within the EU without the need for time-consuming and expensive quarantine procedures.
Many exotic pets such as certain breeds of birds, snakes, lizards and tortoises are actually required by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) to be identified (usually via a microchip for reptiles or leg ring for birds) before being sold. If you have an exotic pet it may be worth checking whether they are already chipped, or if they should be chipped.
What are the benefits though?
Although microchips are not required by law in all species, they have many benefits. Firstly, they are a cheap and easy way of identifying your animal. For a small one-off payment, most vets will able to insert a microchip into your pet that will be with them for life. Smaller microchips for very small exotic pets exist, so it is worth talking to your vet and seeing if this is something they offer,or whether they can refer you to a vet that does offer smaller microchips.
Most importantly microchips allow for your pet to be quickly reunited with you if they ever go missing or, in the case of valuable exotic pets, get stolen. Many exotic pets are excellent escape artists - from tortoises who love to roam to birds that could easily fly away. Unlike cats, a missing exotic pet would find it very hard to defend themselves from predators or find food in the wild. The weather conditions in the UK mean that many exotic pets would also find it very hard to survive long in the wild. Most would also lack the ability to find their way home again.
How many animals are microchipped?
In the UK it is estimated that only 20% of rabbits, 1.5% of other small mammals and 2.5% of birds are microchipped. Figures for reptiles, amphibians and fish are unknown. These numbers are tiny in comparison to dogs and cats. Hopefully, as more people become aware that microchipping is not only available but very beneficial in exotic pets, these numbers will increase.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you will understand a bit more about microchipping and the benefits it can offer even to exotic pets. If you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to have a word with one of our vets as they will be happy to help.