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Microchips are in everything — You’re using one to read this – so why not in Pretty Polly?

Australia is home to 24 million pets, according to a survey by the RSPCA. Dogs and cats are the most popular, but companion birds account for almost one-in-five, at 4.2 million.

RSPCA figures also show that over the previous five years, 15% of pets were lost, with that number more than doubling over their lifetime. As birds have some of the longest lifespans for domestic pets, that implies almost 1.5 million of our feathered friends will fly the coop.

The most common form of identification for birds has been leg bands, which date back to the days of messenger pigeons and falconry. While adequate for some, the system is far from ideal.

First and foremost, they carry health risks, as dirt builds up under the ring, creating pressure on the leg that restricts blood flow and can cause tendinitis. At a minimum, it can cause irritation, which may prompt your bird to self-harm in search of relief. The band can catch on toys, furniture, or the aviary itself, causing injury.

Lastly, they are not always permanent, as the identification number can wear off over time. The band can simply break and fall off, or worse, be taken off in the case of theft.

Grain of Rice

By contrast, an avian microchip isdesigned to last for life, as it is housed in a special type of glass that’s compatible with living tissue. These chips are designed to encourage scar tissue to form so they will remain at the injection site and not move. There’s no need of a power supply, battery, or any moving parts that need to be replaced.

The chip, which is only the size of a single grain of rice, uses Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) to transmit information. It is activated by a scanner triggering the chip to emit a signal, revealing the unique identification code that matches the bird with its owner. This number cannot be lost, altered or intentionally removed. With the price tag of some larger parrots making them a serious financial investment, this is an important consideration.

Implant Procedure

The procedure only takes a few minutes, as the chip is inserted via an injection. Just enough time to fill out the Australasian Animal Registry form, which your vet can file for you.

Sugarloaf animal hospital

There is no awareness of the implant throughout the bird’s life and the chip will not affect the bird’s flight in any way. Most breeders inject the chip between the ages of eight and 12 weeks, but it can be done any time after that.

Unlike dogs and cats, the microchip is not placed under the skin (subcutaneously) in the back of the neck, but rather, implanted in the breast muscle (intramuscular.)In a bird, there is almost no subcutaneous area and there would be a visible lump underneath their thin skin a bird might pick at.

For smaller birds, a subcutaneous implant is still preferred because the risk of haemorrhage with intramuscular implantation is that much higher. A complication with subcutaneous injection is the possibility of the implant moving, which may only occur several years later.

Vets advise that any bird weighing 100 grams or more can be safely microchipped. The procedure, while simple, should always be performed not just by a vet, but an avian specialist. Birds are fragile and a vet must know how to handle them to minimize stress. As with human patients, bedside manner is vital.

“We don’t want to use anaesthetic, so keeping the bird calm is very important,” said Dr. Mark Simpson, owner of Sugarloaf Animal Hospital in West Wallsend, where he has been caring for exotic animals for more than 20 years. “We’ve seen an increase in owners that want to have their birds chipped and registered. I’d love to see all birds get microchipped to avoid the devastating loss of a much-loved companion.”

Nevertheless, the technology has its limits. While we have all used Google Maps to become intrepid explorers, the avian microchip is not fitted with GPS tracking. Unfortunately, it will not help you findyour bird, but merely identify it once found.

The chip will also not keep your personal information up to date, so if you move, you need to advise the AAR. According to an APPA National Pet Owner survey, more than half of the microchipped animals had outdated contact information.

Regulations

Despite how commonplace microchips have become in our life, uptake in the animal world has been slow, especially for birds. This has resulted in more states making implants mandatory for cats and dogs and recommended for other animals. In fact, the list from the Australian Veterinary Association includes horses, reptiles, small mammals, fish and even Alpacas!

Other regulations have also increased. Many government agencies require permits to import & export, transport or just keep a bird. Getting a permit involves being able to uniquely identify a bird. Leg bands lack permanence and Tattoos are not necessarily unique or able to be registered.

 

With Australia’s PetCover having recently introduced insurance for exotic animals that includes an allowance for recovery of lost pets, don’t be surprised if before long, they too insist on microchipping as a policy requirement. {https://www.petcover.com.au/policies/exotics-insurance}

Clip or Chip?

Some owners consider a microchip unnecessary as they have their bird’s wings clipped to restrict flight. However, “restrict” is the key, as they will still retain a limited ability to fly. Clipping needs to be done annually and is more divisive within the veterinary community (and another procedure that should only be done by an avian specialist.)

Sugarloaf animal hospital

Even with clipped wings, a startled bird can get enough of an adrenaline rush to fly off, especially on a windy day. A panicked bird will instinctively fly toward the light of the nearest opening – a literal window of opportunity to escape. Once free, the bird’s inability to fly properly deprives it of its main form of defence and reduces its chances of survival.

To leave you with an example of the merits of chipping, here’s a story from Lafeber of Nigel, the African Grey Parrot. Nigel lived in Southern California with his British owner until he escaped in 2010. His adopted owner responded to an appeal for a lost parrot that matched Nigel’s description. His chip was discovered, and the original owner tracked down. Nigel was eventually returned none the worse for wear after his four-year adventure, except for one thing – He now spoke Spanish!