Nothing is 100% safe. Nothing. There’s no perfectly safe flight, drug, car ride, surgery or sidewalk. Any drug, food, supplement or medical device with the power to help you also has the power to hurt you. That much we know for sure.

It’s the cure vs. kill conundrum and it’s a big deal when it comes to all kinds of veterinary subjects. Usually it’s the anesthesia and the commonest drugs that get all of our attention in this department. But sometimes, medical devices like microchips get targeted for their less-than-perfect safety records, too.

Consider the following comment I received after raising the microchip safety issue (with respect to the cancer risk some of you may have heard of) on my PetMD blog post this past Monday:

Serious Concerns Re. Microchips by Roy on 01/19/2010 09:28am

In addition to the microchip-cancer risk, scientific studies prove that animals have experienced severe neurological damage and even death due to the microchip implant procedure.

Also, as stated by the FDA, other serious health concerns associated with microchip implants include: 'adverse tissue reaction; migration of implanted transponder; compromised information security; failure of implanted transponder; failure of inserter; failure of electronic scanner; electromagnetic interference; electrical hazards; magnetic resonance imaging incompatibility; and needle stick.'

And, 'there are also serious privacy, legal, ethical, agricultural, religious, and environmental concerns associated with these implants" writes the author of the in-depth microchip report entitled "Microchip Implants: Technological Solution or 21st Century Nightmare?

But that wasn’t all of it. There’s more. Perhaps you would be interested in reading the following scientific documents. They can be accessed for free via

'Microchip insertion in alpacas' discusses the death of a 6-month-old alpaca due to the microchip implant procedure. 'Postmortem examination showed that the microchip was located in the spinal cord between C2 and C3 vertebrae. The resulting neurogenic shock was thought to be the cause of death.'

'Imaging diagnosis--spinal injury following aberrant microchip implantation'

'Surgical removal of a microchip from a puppy's spinal canal'

'Spinal cord injury resulting from incorrect microchip placement in a cat'

And let's not forget about little Charlie Brown who bled to death last year shortly after receiving a microchip implant; an implant that was required by law in California!!!

Wow. And here I was thinking that raising the issue of microchip safety was going to earn me hate mail from those who work in shelter medicine. Instead, I got it handed to me by the privacy community on the basis of several undeniably alarming cancer cases and a few freak accidents. After all, we’re talking about a handful of cases for every million implanted microchips––hardly an epidemic of systematic abuse on the part of the veterinary or microchip industries.

But here's the deal...

A large contingent of microchip opponents are not pet people at all. However, they'll happily trade on the issue of adverse microchip reactions in pets by way of opposing public policy that supports microchip mandates in certain communities; mandates that are in place specifically because it's been shown that microchips lower shelter expenses by getting pets back home where they belong.

This privacy-oriented political cadre opposes microchips on principle...not on the basis of pet health. These are completely separate issues. And yet they disingenuously trade on tragedies like Leon's to advance their pro-privacy arguments. Fear-mongering for political the expense of the pets of those whose microchips might have seen them home again.

While I can understand why those whose pets have been harmed would not tend to see it this way (nor would I blame them), it’s worth noting that the risk of pet loss due to identification failure is far higher than the chance that your veterinarian will inadvertently stab your pet in the spine with a microchip needle.

So here's where I repeat: Nothing is 100% safe. Nothing. But some things are safer than others. Microchips in my eyes fall under the "pretty damn safe" and "worth the minuscule risk" designations. But not all of my readers will agree...least of all those who seem to care more about their privacy as a political issue than about getting pets back home safely.