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Pets forced to endure surgery or quarantine if passport chips fail

By Catriona Davies

 
Lorna Tough with her cocker spaniels
Lorna Tough: ?very unhappy at the thought of unnecessary surgery?

Animals implanted with microchips as part of the pet passport scheme face "unnecessary" surgery or lengthy stays in quarantine when the technology fails, vets warned yesterday.

The scheme, which has been running for six years and has 200,000 cats and dogs on its books, involves implanting 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.

If the pet is on its way home from holiday when the fault is discovered, it must go into quarantine for up to six months while the problem is rectified.

The Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs, which operates the pet passports 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 when she took it 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, but were unhappy about carrying out surgery to remove it.

Miss Tough, 46, 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."

The British Small Animals Veterinary Association said it receives reports of a couple of cases a year where a microchip migrates within the body or fails, but said there would be other cases which were not reported.

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."

Jill Bodman, who has obtained a passport to take her eight-month-old Labrador retriever to France for the first time in June, said: "I will be very relieved when Toby gets through customs. My daughter Michelle has passports for her three Labradors.

"One of Michelle's dogs is overweight and it always takes them a while to find the chip. Usually they let her have a go with the scanner, but she gets a little nervous and is always relieved when they've passed Customs.

"I will be very relieved when Toby has got through for the first time so that I know his chip works."

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