Microchipping - Our Experience - - - by Liz Davies (aka "Mom")

Microchipping Parrots in the US and in Australia
My experience with microchipping a parrot is unique.  That's because I've now been through it with birds in the US and in Australia. 

There's something of note that we experienced in both countries: fear of the anesthetic.  We heard many horror stories about birds that were put "under" and succumbed to the gas, dying on the vet's procedure table or soon after.  At one time the gas used was inferior, and there certainly was a huge amount of risk in the early days of avian veterinary practice.  These days, however, there have been advances and the chemicals used are effective and much less risky.  That is not to say that there is no risk - there is.  But with a healthy full-grown bird in the hands of a knowledgeable and experienced avian vet you can expect a good result.  

Read Jesse's Story (our experience in the US, 2005)

Read Laka's Story (our experience in Australia, 2008 - with photos/video)

Jesse's Microchipping Story (2005 -  in the US)

With each of our bird adoptions in the states, our American avian vet brought up the topic of microchipping when we went for our "new bird checkup" visits.  Because most of the birds were not allowed outside, and were relatively inexpensive (and therefore not all that interesting to thieves), I opted not to pursue it.

Jesse was another matter.  She's a much greater attraction for a thief - and we did take her outside (with her harness on, of course, but accidents do happen).  The decision to have her "chipped" was a no-brainer.  The only question was when (at what age) and whether or not to have the vet use anesthesia.

Dr. Mohan, our vet answered both questions: he recommended doing the chipping once she was weaned - and he strongly objected to the idea of performing the procedure without anesthesia.

I was very concerned about having her knocked out for the chipping - especially since I'd heard a couple of horror stories about birds that had died as a direct result of the anesthesia.  A very knowledgeable friend had told me that chipping without anesthesia was perfectly safe and did not involve a great deal of distress for the bird.  She was pretty convincing, so I discussed this openly with our vet.  He provided me with some things to think about:

  • There have been advances made in drugs used for anesthesia - and new ones out are proving to be much safer.  Our vet said that he occasionally has to anesthetize larger birds in order to do routine procedures (especially parrots that aren't at all tame).
  • Although the procedure should be quick, an angry macaw on it's back is unlikely to be cooperative.  Struggling during the insertion would put her at higher risk for injury.
  • If there happened to be any unusual bleeding, taking care of the situation would be much more difficult/hazardous with a fully awake bird.
  • Finally, he showed me the needle used for the insertion - and it was pretty large; I wouldn't want that stuck in me without anesthesia, and I'm a lot bigger than Jesse.

I've known Dr. Mohan for nearly 25 years - and I trust his judgment, so we agreed to do it his way, but I must say I was pretty tense when the time came.

Jesse's Microchipping Procedure
We took a large bath towel with us - one that Jesse knew as her "snuggle towel".  When we entered the vet's examination/procedures room, Jesse tensed up immediately (she'd been there before and remembered it).  The vet put the towel over her head and back to restrain her and put her on the table (belly and legs up).  She growled a little but didn't really struggle a lot (and the vet had a firm grip on her).

Just next to the table was the vet assistant and a fairly good-sized machine which I took to be the anesthesia device.  It had a long hose on it attached to a clear plastic cup.  The assistant slid the cup over Jesse's head and gave her a small amount of anesthesia.

We could see Jesse's expression through the clear cup.  Her body relaxed a bit and her expression was one of ... surprise.  The only thing moving was her eyes - first she looked at me, then the vet, then she started looking all around as if the room were spinning (it probably was).  Although I was pretty anxious, it was hard not to laugh out loud at the look on her face.

Once her body went a little slack, the assistant pulled the cup away and slid a black rubber ring over Jesse's head.  This ring fitted snuggly on her neck and enclosed the clear gas-cup, creating a sealed space.  It looked like Jesse was in a space suit.

Her chest was moving (respiration) and she seemed to be breathing pretty fast.  The anesthesia was coming through now and her eyes slowly closed - or almost closed.  She never completely shut them, and I had the impression she was peeking at me through the little slits left.

The vet gave her a quick nail trim and when he did, she opened her eyes wide and kicked a bit.  The assistant gave her just a tad more "gas" and she relaxed again.  Now that the vet was sure she was "under", he swabbed down the spot he'd selected, picked up the syringe and carefully inserted the chip.  After removing the needle, he paused and checked to make sure there was no bleeding.  Done!

The assistant removed the cup and ring from Jesse's head, and the vet picked her up and cradled her against his body (one hand under her back, one under her head).  After just a couple of seconds, Jesse started to wake up - and as she did, she started "hooting"! 

"WooHoo wooooOOOoooooo.  OOOoooooooo!  HooHoo!  Ar Ar Ar.. Hoo HoooooooOOOOOooooo...."

The vet giggled a little and remarked that she certainly seemed to have something "to say".  And we all laughed speculating what that "something" might be.  Then Jesse came awake enough to start struggling, and the vet set her on the floor facing me.  She looked up at me and tried to move to me, but her legs went out from under her and she went down head-first.  She quickly recovered, however, and wabbled over to me with a look of "What Happened?" on her face.

That evening, I could tell that she was a little "sore".  She wanted to sit on my stomach (warmth) and pretty much stayed put (very unusual for her, she doesn't normally lay still, but wiggles around, jumps up and climbs all over me).  But I cuddled her and "loved on her", telling her what a good and brave bird she had been - and she was her usual rambunctious self the next day.

Of course we hope that we'll never have to rely on the microchip, but it is a comfort knowing it's there.

During Jesse's procedure, our vet chatted with us and related a couple of stories from his own experience which I think are worth telling here:

  • A local restaurant owner had a Blue and Gold macaw that he kept on premises. Someone stole the bird - but because they were part of a known theft ring, the bird was recovered by the police.  The owner was thrilled that he would get his bird back, but he had no way to prove to the police that this macaw was his.  He was fortunate, however.  The vet had seen the bird and performed some kind of corrective procedure on the bird's beak - something which left a distinct mark.  The police asked the vet to make positive identification, and the vet was able to do that.  The owner got back his bird - and had it microchipped the next day.
  • A couple who owned a large parrot went on vacation and had a pet service coming each day to check the bird's food and water.  One day when the pet service employee came, he walked in to find an empty apartment!  Someone had taken everything - the bird and all the furniture.  The police monitored the newspaper and, sure enough, someone posted a classified ad to sell a parrot like the stolen one.  The police checked into it - and because the parrot was microchipped, the owner got him back, plus his missing furniture and other belongings.  

Laka's Microchip Story (2008 - in Australia)
(a special "thank you" to Dr. Walker, who allowed us to photograph the procedure)

Laka, when she came to us, was smaller and lighter than any B&G macaw I'd been around.  At 7 months of age she weighed 790 grams (as opposed to Jesse who was considerably heavier at that age).  The breeder we worked with was very experienced and knowledgeable, and assured me that her weight was normal for that species here.  Our avian vet echoed this, so I did not harbor any concerns about her overall health, but I felt that we should wait until she was older and more robust before going ahead with microchipping.  So we waited until a year later, when she was weighing in at close to 900 grams.  

Laka's "big day" came - and her appointment was for 10:30 a.m.  An empty crop is very important for a bird about to be anesthetized, so although we did allow her a drink of water at 7:30, we did not feed her and withheld the water after her initial drink.  She put on quite a show as we waited for the time to take her - she stood over her empty cups, looked deep into them, then looked at me and bleated pitifully.  She'd never had to wait for brekkies before and she was clearly very confused and upset about it.

We arrived at the vet's office with a printout of Laka's weight gains (we weigh her about every 2 weeks and record the results) and took along her nighttime and first-in-the-morning poo's.  Dr. Walker looked at the weight numbers, inspected the droppings and generally looked her over to satisfy himself she was ready.  

On goes the mask!  
Dr. Walker's assistant held the 'gas mask' - a cleverly made hood constructed from a plastic beverage bottle and what looked like surgical tape and spliced rubber gloves.  

A clean terry towel was spread on the procedure table and we stood Laka on it.  She wasn't terribly happy about this, and kept scooting over toward me.

Laka is a fairly calm bird, so Dr. Walker only needed to hold her wings to her side while I held her neck.  She struggled a little, but not enough to need toweling.  The assistant slid the gas mask over her head and very slowly began to administer the anesthetic.  Very soon Laka's body relaxed and Dr. Walker flipped her over onto her back.
Boy... does this look pitiful or what?!?!?  

At first her eyes were open, but slowly they closed.  I stood next to her and talked to her soothingly, telling her what a good girl she was and how brave.  Dr. Walker teased me about that, saying "I'm pretty sure she can't hear you".  And he chuckled when I explained "It may not make any difference to her, but it makes me feel better."

She was breathing calmly, but her feet were trembling a little.  I had forgotten that Jesse's feet did this under the anesthetic, too.  With Jesse, I'd been worried, but having been through it I wasn't as concerned.

But boy... she did look kind-of pitiful lying there.

Not at all the raucous "thunder beak" of our lounge room... more like Sleeping Beauty.  The only thing missing was the sound of avian snoring. 


Here it is: the moment of truth.  The needle slid in smoothly and the chip was inserted.

The veterinary assistant removed the gas mask for a moment or two and Dr. Walker took the opportunity, with Laka so "out of it" to do a very thorough exam, looking carefully at her vent, at her preening gland, in her nares and deep into her throat.  He also carefully felt over her body, checking for lumps and bumps.  Laka, who normally would object to such handling, lay there limp and unresisting.

The exam over, the assistant popped the mask back on and began to administer oxygen.  Laka began to revive quickly.  Dr. Walker first flipped her onto her tummy (cushioned by the soft towel, as her legs weren't supporting her yet).  Once she started to wriggle more insistently, he set her down on the floor so that she could get to her feet (she was flopping over a lot at first) without the worry that she'd fall off the table.

Here's a video clip of her as she's waking up.

As I write this, it's about 5 hours since her procedure.  She's been pretty quiet today - normally she chatters a bit in the afternoon.  I'm quite sure she's a little sore, but she's not picking at the site where the chip was inserted, and is probably happy to sit quietly and get over the trauma and insult that took place this morning.

I'm glad I remembered to take my camera with me this time (was so tense when we did Jesse that it never occurred to me to do that and I've always regretted it).  And again I thank Dr. Walker for allowing the camera (and us) in his operating theater.