A microchip is an integrated circuit that is used to identify a pet or other animal. It is a little larger than a grain of rice and has absolutely no internal power source. Because of this they are referred to as a Passive Integrated Transponder or PIT tag.
External microchip tags have been used in farm animals for quite a while. These types of tags often take the form of ear tags. Farmers often use these types of tags in conjunction with tattoos.
Uses and Benefits of Microchips
The benefits offered by the use of a microchip depends on which organization is using the microchip. Private animal owners, for instance, receive two basic benefits from the use of a microchip:
- Reuniting lost animals with their owners. This is probably the biggest benefit to private animal owners. Any time a stray animals is brought to a shelter or veterinarian it is scanned to see if there is a microchip embedded in the animal. If one is located, the information contained within the chip is checked against a database. The information in the database will match the animal with its owner.
- Proving ownership of a stolen animal. Nobody needs to be told that animal theft is a constant problem for pet owners. When an animal is microchipped it makes it easier for the police to identify the animal as being stolen. This is often evidence enough for the police to lay charges putting the criminal behind bars.
Other organizations also use microchips to aid in their duties. For instance, microchips are used by kennels, breeders, registries, trainers, rescue groups, and more as a way of identifying an animal and keeping track of the animal.
Some countries even have a requirement that all domestic pets be microchipped. This not only helps them to identify the animal but it also is a way of connecting the animal’s medical history to the animal. That way they can see if the animal is up-to-date with its vaccinations. This also helps for faster border crossings if the pet owner travels a lot with their animal.
Also, under the Washington Convention, this is a method of keeping track of animals that are transported across country borders. The various governments use microchips as a way of preventing rare and endangered species from being poached and transported across the border to private collectors.
The Process of Microchipping
The process of getting your pet, or any animal, microchipped is really quite simple. Usually performed by a veterinarian, this procedure can also be accomplished by anyone who has been properly trained.
Before an animal is microchipped it is first scanned to determine that it does not already have a microchip implanted. If no microchip is found the person who is doing the procedure will use a syringe-like tool to implant the chip into the animal’s neck. The chip itself is usually placed between the shoulder blades of the animal. Just under the skin where connective tissues will grow around the chip holding it in place.
Since this procedure is basically the same as giving an injection to the animal, no anesthetic is required. It is a relatively painless procedure that takes approximately 10 seconds to perform.
Once the microchip is implanted the veterinarian will then register the chip with a database service which shows that the chip has now been implanted into an animal. If the animal is not owned by someone yet no ownership information is given except for the organization which implanted the chip.
However, once the animal is claimed by a human it is then the responsibility of that person to contact the microchip manufacturer and register their name and address with them. Today you can usually do this online but if you don’t have a computer the microchip package you will get from the veterinarian or shelter when you adopt your new pet will have alternative methods of registering.
Once the animal has been registered with the microchip service the pet owner will often receive a certificate of ownership which includes the microchip number. This particular certificate provides proof of ownership of the animal and is transferred with the animal when it is sold or traded to someone else. This is a very valuable document as it provides the authorities proof of ownership if the animal is stolen.
Whenever you visit the veterinarian with your animal you should always ask for a chip scan to verify that the chip is still functioning properly. If it isn’t, it can be removed and another one inserted.
The Components of a Microchip
A microchip is a passive chip or RFID device. Because of this there is absolutely no power source on the microchip itself. The only way that they become active is when they are scanned by a scanner.
Most implants contain three elements: a 'chip' or integrated; a coil inductor, possibly with a ferrite core; and a capacitor. It is the chip itself which contains the unique identifying number for your pet. The coil of the chip is what receives the power source from the scanner and, combined with the capacitor, emits a radio frequency which the scanner can read showing the information that is contained on the chip.
Usually, the implant location differs among the different types of animals and the prevailing government regulations that are in place for that locale. However, the most common location is at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. This is the most common location of the chip for dogs and cats.
Horses are usually microchipped on the left side of the neck. Usually half way between the poll and withers. Most commonly about an inch below the mane’s midline.
Birds usually have the microchip implanted in their breast muscles. With birds there must be proper restraint and implanting a chip is usually a two-man job as the bird should be sedated to prevent injury or death.
For other animals the placement of the microchip depends on the purpose of Microchipping.
The Use of Microchips Worldwide
Depending on which country you reside in you will find that the laws on Microchipping an animal varies. Japan, for instance, requires that every dog and cat that is imported into the country be microchipped. New South Wales required that every domestic cat and dog be microchipped regardless of the animal’s origin.
All dogs in New Zealand since July 2006 must be microchipped. However, legislation was passed which amended this law for farm dogs which allows them to be exempt from the mandatory Microchipping law.
New Zealand is currently in the process of developing a National Animal Identification and Tracing program which will require that all animals, including farm dogs, be microchipped so that they can properly locate and identify the owners of the animals.
Israel requires that all animals for domestic purposes be microchipped. In Australia there is the National Livestock Identification System which requires all farm animals be microchipped.
The United States has the National Animal Identification System that is geared towards farm and ranch animals other than cats and dogs. For these animals it is only required that they have an external ear tag instead of a microchip implanted. Horses, however, are the only ranch animals that require the implanted microchip.
Compatibility and Standards Issues
Most countries follow the ISO standards for Microchipping so that the various countries can read the chips from other countries. However, if you do a quick search on Wikipedia your will find that some issues do exist. They are quoted from Wikipedia as follows:
- The ISO Conformant Full Duplex type has the greatest international acceptance. It is common in many countries including Europe (since the late 1990s) and Canada. It is one of two chip protocol types (along with the "Half Duplex" type sometimes used in farm and ranch animals) that conform to International Organization for Standardization standards ISO 11784 and ISO 11785. To support international/multivendor application, the 3-digit country code can contain an assigned ISO country code or a manufacturer code from 900 to 998 plus its identifying serial number. In the US, distribution of this type has been controversial. When 24PetWatch.com began distributing them in 2003 (and more famously Banfield Pet Hospitals in 2004) many shelter scanners couldn't read them. (Some still can't; asking local shelters about this is still a good idea.) At least one Banfield-chipped pet was inadvertently euthanized.
- The Trovan Unique type is another pet chip protocol type in use in US pets since 1990. Patent problems forced the withdrawal of Trovan's implanter device from US distribution and they became uncommon in US pets, although Trovan's original registry database "infopet.biz" remained in operation. In early 2007, the American Kennel Club's chip registration service, AKC Companion Animal Recovery Corp., "akccar.org", which had been the authorized registry for HomeAgain brand chips made by Destron/Digital Angel, began distributing Trovan chips with a different implanter. These chips are read by the Trovan, HomeAgain (Destron Fearing), and Bayer (Black Label) readers. Despite multiple offers from Trovan to AVID to license the technology to read the Trovan chips, AVID continues to distribute readers that do not read Trovan or the ISO compliant chips.
- A third type sometimes known as FECAVA or Destron is available under various brand names. These include, in the US, "Avid Eurochip", the common current 24PetWatch chips, and the original (and still popular) style of HomeAgain chips. (US HomeAgain and 24Petwatch now can supply the true ISO chip instead on request.) Chips of this type have 10 digit [hexadecimal] chip numbers. This "FECAVA" type is readable on a wide variety of scanners in the US and has been less controversial, although its level of adherence to the ISO standards is sometimes exaggerated in some descriptions. The ISO standard has an annex (appendix) recommending that three older chip types be supported by scanners, including a 35-bit "FECAVA"/"Destron" type. The common Eurochip/HomeAgain chips don't agree perfectly with the annex description, although the differences are sometimes considered minor. But the ISO standard also makes it clear that only its 64-bit "full-duplex" and "half-duplex" types are "conformant"; even chips (e.g., the Trovan Unique) that match one of the Annex descriptions are not. More visibly, FECAVA cannot support the ISO standard's required country/manufacturer codes. They may be accepted by authorities in many countries where ISO-standard chips are the norm, but not by those requiring literal ISO conformance.
- Finally, there's the AVID brand Friendchip type, which is peculiar due to its encryption characteristics. Cryptographic features are not necessarily unwelcome; few pet rescuers or humane societies would object to a design that outputs an ID number "in the clear" for anyone to read, along with authentication features for detection of counterfeit chips. But the authentication in "Friendchips" has been found lacking and rather easy to spoof to the AVID scanner. Although no authentication encryption is involved, obfuscation requires secret information to convert transmitted chip data to its original label ID code. Well into 2006, scanners containing the secrets were provided to the US market only by AVID and Destron/Digital Angel; Destron/Digital Angel put the decryption feature in some, but not all, of its scanners possibly as early as 1996. (For years, its scanners distributed to shelters through HomeAgain usually had full decryption, while many sold to vets would only state that an AVID chip had been found.) Well into 2006, both were resisting calls from consumers and welfare group officials to bring scanners to the US shelter community combining AVID decryption capability with the ability to read ISO-compliant chips. Some complained that AVID itself had long marketed combination pet scanners compatible with all common pet chips except possibly Trovan outside the US. By keeping them out of the US, it could be considered partly culpable in the missed-ISO chips problem others blamed on Banfield. In 2006, the European manufacturer Datamars, a supplier of ISO chips used by Banfield and others, gained access to the decryption secrets and began supplying scanners with them to US customers. This "Black Label" scanner was the first four-standard full-multi pet scanner in the US market. Later in 2006, Digital Angel announced that it would supply a full-multi scanner in the US. In 2008 AVID itself announced a "breakthrough" scanner, although as of October 2010 AVID's is still so uncommon that it's unclear whether it supports the Trovan chip. Trovan itself also got the decryption technology on or before 2006, and now provides it in scanners distributed in the US by AKC-CAR. (Some are quad-read, but others lack full ISO support.)
Adverse Reactions to Microchips
During the research phase of microchips scientists have indicated that when the chips were implanted in mice and rats they developed tumors in the area of the chip. In cats and dogs, however, the actual rate of any serious complication from the implant of the microchip itself is at about one in a million. For this reason it is generally encouraged by veterinarians and humane societies worldwide to have your animal microchipped.