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A microchip implant is an identifying integrated circuit placed under the skin of a dog, cat, horse, parrot or other animal. The chip, about the size of a large grain of rice, uses passive RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology.
Externally attached microchips such as RFID ear tags are commonly used to identify farm and ranch animals other than horses. Some external microchips can be read with the same scanner used with implanted chips.
Animal shelters, animal control officers and veterinarians routinely look for microchips to return lost pets quickly to their owners, avoiding expenses for housing, food, medical care, outplacing and euthanasia. Many shelters place chips in all outplaced animals.
Some countries require microchips in imported animals to match vaccination records. Microchip tagging may also be required for CITES-regulated international trade in certain rare animals: for example, Asian Arowana are tagged to limit import to captive-bred fish.
Microchips can be implanted by a veterinarian or at a shelter. After checking that the animal does not already have a chip, the vet or technician injects the chip with a syringe and records the chip's unique ID. No anesthetic is required. A test scan ensures correct operation.
An enrollment form is completed with chip ID, owner contact information, pet name and description, shelter and/or veterinarian contact information, and an alternate emergency contact designated by the pet owner. Some shelters and vets designate themselves as the primary contact to remain informed about possible problems with the animals they place. The form is sent to a registry, who may be the chip manufacturer, distributor or an independent entity; some countries have a single official national database. For a fee, the registry typically provides 24-hour, toll-free telephone service for the life of the pet. Some veterinarians leave registration to the owner, usually done online, but a chip without current contact information is essentially useless.
The owner receives a registration certificate with the chip ID and recovery service contact information. The information can also be imprinted on a collar tag worn by the animal. Like an automobile title, the certificate serves as proof of ownership and is transferred with the animal when it is sold or traded; an animal without a certificate could be stolen.
Authorities and shelters examine strays for chips, providing the recovery service with the ID number, description and location so they may notify the owner or contact. Multiple registries may have to be consulted; see Pet recovery service for further discussion of related issues. If the pet is wearing the collar tag, the finder does not need a chip reader to contact the registry. An owner can also report a missing pet to the recovery service, as vets look for chips in new animals and check with the recovery service to see if it has been reported lost or stolen.
Many veterinarians scan an animal's chip on every visit to verify correct operation. Some use the chip ID as their database index and print it on receipts, test results, vaccination certifications and other records.
A microchip implant is a passive RFID device. Lacking an internal power source, it remains inert until it is powered by the scanner.
Most implants contain three elements: a 'chip' or integrated circuit; a coil inductor, possibly with a ferrite core; and a capacitor. The chip contains unique identification data and electronic circuits to encode that information. The coil acts as the secondary winding of a transformer, receiving power inductively coupled to it from the scanner. The coil and capacitor together form a resonant LC circuit tuned to the frequency of the scanner's oscillating magnetic field to produce power for the chip. The chip then transmits its data back through the coil to the scanner.
These components are encased in biocompatible soda lime glass and hermetically sealed. Barring rare complications, dogs and cats are unaffected by them.
In dogs and cats, chips are usually inserted below the skin at the back of the neck between the shoulder blades on the dorsal midline. According to one reference, continental European pets get the implant in the left side of the neck. The chip can often be felt under the skin. Thin layers of connective tissue form around the implant and hold it in place.
Horses are microchipped on the left side of the neck, halfway between the poll and withers and approximately one inch below the midline of the mane, into the nuchal ligament.
Many animal species have been microchipped, including cockatiels and other parrots, horses, llamas, alpacas, goats, sheep, miniature pigs, rabbits, deer, ferrets, penguins, snakes, lizards, alligators, turtles, toads, frogs, rare fish, chimpanzees, mice, and prairie dogs—even whales and elephants. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses microchipping in its research of wild bison, black-footed ferrets, grizzly bears, elk, white-tailed deer, giant land tortoises and armadillos.
Microchips are not yet universal, but they are legally required in some jurisdictions such as the state of New South Wales, Australia. Some countries, such as Japan, require ISO-compliant microchips or a compatible reader on imported dogs and cats.
In New Zealand, all dogs first registered after 1 July 2006 must be microchipped. Farmers protested that farm dogs should be exempt, drawing a parallel to the Dog Tax War of 1898. Farm dogs were exempted from microchipping in an amendment to the legislation passed in June 2006. A National Animal Identification and Tracing scheme in New Zealand is currently being developed for tracking livestock.
Australia has a National Livestock Identification System.
The United States uses the National Animal Identification System for farm and ranch animals other than dogs and cats. In most species except horses, an external eartag is typically used in lieu of an implant microchip. Eartags with microchips or simply stamped with a visible number can be used. Both use ISO 15 digit microchip numbers with the U.S. country code of 840.
In most countries, pet ID chips adhere to an international standard to promote compatibility between chips and scanners. In the US, however, three proprietary types of chips compete along with the international standard. Scanners distributed to US shelters and vets well into 2006 could each read at most three of the four types. Scanners with quad-read capability are now available and are increasingly considered required equipment. Older scanner models will be in use for some time so US pet owners must still choose between a chip with good coverage by existing scanners and one compatible with the international standard. The four types include:
Numerous references in print state that the incompatibilities between different chip types are a matter of "frequency". One may find claims that early ISO adopters in the US endangered their customers' pets by giving them ISO chips that work at a "different frequency" from the local shelter's scanner, or that the US government considered forcing an incompatible frequency change. These claims were little challenged by manufacturers and distributors of ISO chips, although later evidence suggests the claims were disinformation. In fact, all chips operate at the scanner's frequency. Although ISO chips are optimized for 134.2 kHz, in practice they are readable at 125 kHz and the "125 kHz" chips are readable at 134.2 kHz. Confirmation comes from government filings which indicate that supposed "multi-frequency" scanners now commonly available are really single-frequency scanners operating at 125, 134.2 or 128 kHz.) In particular, the US HomeAgain scanner didn't change excitation frequency when ISO-read capability was added; it's still a single frequency, 125 kHz scanner.
For a time, Banfield Pet Hospitals advocated and practiced double chipping with both ISO and "FECAVA" chips. (By December 2009 they had switched to ISO-only.) But shelter scanners typically stop after finding one chip [Note 7] so any additional chips might go undetected. And since it's impossible to predict which chip will be found first, reliable identification thus requires that all of an animal's chips be kept on file and updated for life. )Presumably Banfield's enrollment forms had a space for "second chip number" and the on-line enrollment forms of most registries could use some improvement in this regard.) For best protection, the owner of a multi-chipped pet may want to enroll each chip separately in its most customary or manufacturer-provided registry.
|Expected results for chip type|
DO=Detect Only with no number given)
|Scanner to test||ISO Conformant Full Duplex chip||AVID Encrypted "FriendChip"||Original U.S. HomeAgain, AVID Eurochip,[Note 8] or FECAVA||"Trovan Unique" and current AKC CAR chips|
|Minimal ISO Conformant Scanner (also must read HALF Duplex chips common in livestock ear tags)||OK||NR||NR||NR|
|AVID Basic U.S. Scanner||NR||OK||NR||NR|
|AVID Deluxe U.S. Scanner||NR||OK||OK||NR|
|AVID Universal Scanner sold outside U.S.||OK||OK||OK||NR Assumed|
|AVID MiniTracker Pro Scanner announced August 2008||OK||OK||OK||NR according to some (Few have seen one.)|
|Various vintages of U.S. HomeAgain "Universal" Shelter Scanners by Destron/Digital Angel Corp.||NR,DO, or OK||OK||OK||Possibly all OK|
|Typical Destron/Digital Angel Corp. U.S. Vet's scanner pre-2007||NR||DO||OK||DO|
|Trovan LID-560-MULTI per mfr. specs on Web||OK||OK||OK||OK|
|U.S. Trovan Pocket Scanner per AKC-CAR Web Site||DO||OK||OK||OK|
|U.S. Trovan ProScan700 per AKC-CAR Web Site||OK||OK||OK||OK|
|Original 2006 Datamars Black Label Scanner||OK||OK||OK||OK but Reliability Questioned|
|Datamars Black Label Scanner "classypets" model||OK||NR or DO?||OK||OK but Reliability Questioned|
|Banfield-Distributed 2004-2005 Vintage Datamars Scanners||OK||Possibly all DO||OK||Possibly all OK but Reliability Questioned (Undocumented Feature)|
|Datamars Minimax and Micromax||OK||NR||NR||NR|
|Typical Homemade Scanner||OK||OK but extra step required (web-based decryption service)||OK||OK|
(For users requiring Shelter-Grade certainty, this table is not a substitute for testing the scanner with a set of specimen chips. One study cites problems with certain Trovan chips on the Datamars Black Label scanner. In general the study found none of the tested scanners to read all four standards without some deficiency. The study predates the most recent scanner models, however.)
RFID chips are used in animal research, and tumors at the site of implantation have been reported in laboratory mice and rats. Noted veterinary associations responded with continued support for the procedure as reasonably safe for cats and dogs, pointing to rates of serious complications on the order of one in a million in the U.K., which has a system for tracking such adverse reactions and has chipped over 3.7 million pet dogs. A recent study found no safety concerns for microchipped animals with RFID chips undergoing MRI at one Tesla magnetic field strength. In 2011 a microchip-associated fibrosarcoma was reported found in the neck of a 9-year old, neutered-male cat. Histological examination was consistent with postinjection sarcoma, but all prior vaccinations occurred in the hindlegs. The Washington Post has also reported that a series of studies since mid 1990's have found a link between cancerous malignant tumors and microchips in animals.
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