Micro-chipping your pet
May 5, 2005
Losing a family pet can be a heartbreaking
experience. When Rover or Tabby slips through an open door or garden gate,
owners can be seen frantically driving about the neighborhood or posting
signs on telephone poles. While most owners take all the usual precautions
to protect their animals, some are turning to technology in order to increase
the chances that their pets return home.
RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) chips are the electronic equivalent
of the traditional collar and tag, except they can never be lost or removed.
The small chips, 4-5mm, in length are implanted directly beneath the animal's
skin, usually between the shoulder blades for easy access. These chips
have a special coating that clings to the skin and prevents them from
moving about once implanted. Many veterinarians provide RFID implantation
as one of their normal services. Average prices run about $40 if there
is an existing relationship with a vet.
When an animal is picked up by an animal shelter, or taken there by a
concerned citizen, a handheld RFID "wand" reader is run across
the back of the animal. This reader sends out radio waves at a certain
frequency. The RFID chip absorbs this radio energy and converts it into
electricity. This power then allows the chip to "chirp" back
its unique numeric code. Since no batteries are required, the chips are
good for the lifespan of the pet and never need to be recharged or replaced.
Some of the first users of RFID implantations were owners of high-value
animals such as show dogs and racehorses, where indisputable and unchangeable
identification are required. Today, even the lovable mutt and once-stray
cat can enjoy the same security. Some European countries, most notably
the United Kingdom, require that all pets be micro-chipped. People who
are planning to move their pets out of the US are advised to research
the pet ID requirements long before the move occurs.
Both Los Angeles County and Ventura County animal shelters regularly check
for the presence of an RFID chip on any pet brought to their facilities.
A recent California law dictated this policy and all shelters should be
providing this service at the current time. Check with local shelters
to confirm their microchip policies.
As high-tech as RFID sounds, though, there are issues that can reduce
its usefulness. While micro-chipping a pet can provide an additional level
of security, pet owners will still want to use the traditional methods
of identifying their pets. Each pet should be equipped with a collar and
tag containing a telephone number. (For security reasons, it is best to
include a work or cell phone number that cannot be traced to a local address.)
In this way, any neighbor who finds a pet can easily contact the owner.
It is very unlikely that individuals will have the ability or equipment
to scan for the RFID chip.
Just as was seen with the Beta vs. VHS video wars a few decades ago, RFID
chips also suffer from having multiple technical standards. There are
currently two types of chips, one used mainly in the US, and another,
called an ISO chip that is used by most other countries. Currently, chip
readers are only able to identify and read one standard. Most shelters
do not have the necessary equipment to read both standards, although "dual-standard"
readers are being developed. Pet owners should talk with their local shelters
and find out which standard is used most frequently in their area before
having any particular chip implanted.
Finally, the RFID chip only provides a limited amount of information.
No owner information is stored directly on the chip, only a unique identification
number. This means that shelters and veterinarians must then search a
computer database to find the owner's contact information. Unfortunately,
there is no all-encompassing database. Each of the three major providers
of pet microchips, American Veterinary Identification Devices (AVID),
Schering-Plough and Pet health Services Inc., maintain a separate database
system for their clients. Shelters and veterinarians may have to check
all three of these systems in order to locate the owner. Additionally,
each of these databases requires an enrollment fee of $10-$20 to store
and maintain your contact information. If this information is not entered
into some searchable database, or is out of date, the RFID chip is basically
worthless since the unique ID code will not relate back to an owner.
While equipping a pet with an RFID chip can add a level of security today,
competing standards and confusion in the marketplace makes them less useful
than they might be. Pet owners should research which chips are being used
in a particular geographic area and which shelters are equipped to make
use of the chip's information. RFID technology will continue to improve
in the coming years and it is hoped that many of these issues will be
addressed. This consolidation will benefit pet owners and their pets by
making micro-chipping ubiquitous and reliable throughout the United States
and the world.
More information on RFID chips and pet micro-chipping is available
on the Web.
and Your Pet by Randall J. Jackson
American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery (AKC-CAR)
American Veterinarian Identification Devices
Pet health Services Inc.