A microchip impant
A microchip is an identifying
integrated circuit placed under the skin of a
cat, or other animal.
The chips are about the size of a large grain of rice and are based on a passive
another, older method for identifying animals.
Uses and benefits
Microchips have been particularly useful in the return of lost
pets. They can also
assist where the ownership of an animal is in dispute.
Animal shelters and animal control centers benefit from microchipping by
more quickly and efficiently returning pets to their owners. When a pet can be
quickly matched to its owner, the shelter avoids the expense of housing,
feeding, providing medical care, and outplacing or destroying the pet.
Microchipping is becoming increasingly standard at shelters: many require all
outplaced animals to receive a microchip, and provide the service as part of the
In addition to shelters and veterinarians, microchips are used by
breeders, brokers, trainers, registries,
clubs and associations, researchers and
Animal control officers are also trained and equipped to scan animals.
System of recovery
Effective pet identification and recovery depends on the following:
- A pet owner either adopts a pet at a shelter that microchips some or all
adoptee animals, or the owner with an existing pet brings it to a
veterinarian (or a shelter) that provides the service.
- The shelter or vet selects a microchip from their stock, makes a note of
that chip's unique ID, and then inserts the chip into the animal.
- Before sending the animal home, the vet or shelter performs a test scan
on the animal. This helps ensure that the chip will be picked up by a
scanner, and that its unique identifying number will be read correctly.
- An enrollment form is completed with the chip number, the pet owner's
contact information, the name and description of the pet, the shelter's
and/or veterinarian's contact information, and an alternate emergency
contact designated by the pet owner. (Some shelters or vets, however, choose
to designate themselves as the primary contact, and take the responsibility
of contacting the owner directly. This allows them to be kept informed about
possible problems with the animals they place.) The form is then sent to the
manufacturer of the chip to be entered into its database. This company
typically provides not only the microchips, but a 24-hour, toll-free
telephone service for pet recovery, good for the life of the pet.
- The pet owner is also provided the chip ID and the contact information
of the recovery service. This is often in the form of a collar tag imprinted
with the chip ID and the recovery service's toll-free number, to be worn by
- If the pet is lost or stolen, and is found by local authorities or taken
to a shelter, it is scanned during intake to see if a chip exists. If one is
detected, authorities call the recovery service and provide them the ID
number, the pet's description, and the location of the animal. If the pet is
wearing the collar tag, anyone who finds the pet can call the toll-free
number, making it unnecessary to involve the authorities. (The owner can
also preemptively notify the recovery service directly if a pet disappears.
This is useful if the pet is stolen, and is taken to a vet who scans it and
checks with the recovery service.)
- The recovery service notifies the owner that the pet has been found, and
where to go to recover the animal.
Many veterinarians perform test scans on microchipped animals every time the
animal is brought in for care. This ensures the chip still performs properly.
Vets sometimes use the chip ID as the pet's ID in their databases, and print
this number on all outgoing paperwork associated with its services, such as
receipts, test results, vaccination certifications, and descriptions of medical
or surgical procedures.
Components of a microchip
Microchips are passive, or inert,
RFID devices and
contain no internal power source. They are designed so that they do not act
until acted upon.
Three basic elements comprise most microchips: A silicon chip (integrated
circuit); a core of
ferrite wrapped in copper wire; and a small
The silicon chip contains the identification number, plus electronic circuits to
relay that information to the scanner. The ferrite -- or iron -- core acts as a
antenna, ready to receive a signal from the scanner. The capacitor acts as a
tuner, forming a
with the antenna coil.
These components are encased in special
biocompatible glass made from soda lime, and hermetically sealed to prevent
any moisture or fluid entering the unit. Animals are not affected physically or
behaviorally by the presence of a chip in their bodies.
Because microchips and scanners are manufactured by different companies, and
different countries adopt their own standards, attempts have been made to
establish a universal protocol that enables all microchips to be read by all
scanners. This effort has not yet been successful.
The two companies which dominate the U.S. market -- AVID and HomeAgain --
both sell microchips which operate at a frequency of 125 kHz. This allows the
scanner of one manufacturer to detect the presence of its competitor's microchip
-- even if it cannot actually decode the chip's encoded or encrypted ID.
But in Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia, microchips for animals adopt a
standard set by the
International Organization for Standardization, or ISO, specifying that
chips operate at 134.2 kHz.
When Banfield began selling Crystal Tag microchips in the U.S. -- chips made
by Switzerland-based DATAMARS, and following ISO standards -- not enough
scanners were distributed to ensure that these chips (with their different
frequency) could be detected. Customers were not aware that far fewer shelters
and clinics were equipped to detect these chips than the 125 kHz chips.
The situation is further complicated by the fact the AVID holds patents on
125 kHz technology, leading to legal disputes when non-U.S. based companies
attempt to market 125 kHz systems in America. One solution is a scanner that
will read both frequencies, known as a forwards-and-backwards scanner. These are
slower and less reliable, and have not been widely distributed at shelters and
The industry seems to agree that before ISO chips are more widely distributed
in the U.S., scanners that can read the chips should be widely distributed
first, and a transition strategy should be in place.
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. The chip can often be manually detected by the
owner by gently feeling the skin in that area. It stays in place as thin layers
connective tissue form around the biocompatible glass which encases it.
microchipped on the left side of the neck, half the distance between the poll
and withers, and approximately one inch below the midline of the mane, into the
microchips are injected into their breast muscles. Because proper restraint is
necessary, the operation requires two people -- an avian
veterinarian and a trained assistant.
Many species of animals have been microchipped, including birds, horses,
dogs -- even
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service uses microchipping in its research of wild
white-tailed deer, giant land
Microchips are not in universal use, but there are legal requirements in some
jurisdictions, such as the state of
New South Wales,
Some countries, such as
ISO-compliant microchips on dogs and cats being brought into the country, or for
the person bringing the pet into the country to also bring a microchip reader
that can read the non-ISO-compliant microchip.
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