Q. What is a microchip implant for animals?

A microchip implant for animals is essentially the same as a human microchip implant. It is a glass-encapsulated RFID microchip designed to be implanted into living flesh. The device consists of a Radio Frequency Identification or "RFID" integrated circuit (aka a microchip), a capacitor, and an antenna, sealed in a capsule of medical-grade glass. The glass capsule is partially coated in a porous polypropylene substance to encourage the formation of tissue to prevent migration within the body.

Since the early 1990's, implants have been marketed and sold for use in dogs, cats and other pets, horses, laboratory animals, livestock, and wild salmon. The implant is designed to remain permanently embedded under the skin of the animal.

Q. What is the purpose of an animal implant and how does it work?

The implant is marketed as a way to identify animals.

It works in the same way as the human implant previously described. When a scanner is brought within range of the implant, the scanner emits a radio signal that stimulates the implant, causing it to emit its own radio signal in response. That signal is picked up by the scanner and converted into a unique identification number. The number is used to identify the animal or call up a related record.

Q. Where is the microchip typically injected?

In dogs and cats, chips are inserted in the subcutaneous tissue, generally between the shoulder blades or on the left side of the neck. Horses are typically implanted in the nuchal ligament on the left side of the neck, halfway between the poll and withers.

Q. How many animals have received microchip implants in the U.S.?

In the last decade, millions of wild salmon have been implanted with RFID microchip devices to track their movement through waterways. Countless laboratory animals have also been implanted, and many farm animals across the world are being microchipped, as well.

Close to 5% of the United States' estimated 164 million dogs and cats have microchips in their flesh. Animal shelters around the United States routinely chip pets before releasing them for adoption. In addition, governments, including those of Los Angeles County, and El Paso, Texas, have passed ordinances requiring that all dogs under their jurisdiction be microchipped. El Paso has extended the chipping mandate to cats and ferrets.

Q. Can the microchip help locate a lost pet?

Not in the way many people think. The microchip implant does not have GPS capability to locate a missing pet, nor does it use a satellite. The read range on a VeriChip implant is only about three to 12 inches, so a scanner would have to be very close to an animal to read the implanted chip.

A microchip implant can help recover a pet if — and only if — the pet winds up at an animal shelter or a veterinarian's office. When shelter staff members find a stray animal, they first check to see if the animal is wearing a collar. If there is no collar, workers run an RFID reader over the animal's body to look for a microchip implant. If the pet has been chipped, the implant will emit a numerical code that can be looked up in a registry to identify and contact the owner.

Because the scanner must be brought very close to an animal in order to read its RFID implant, the implant would not help find a pet that has been lost in the woods or gotten loose on a city street.

Q. Are there different brands of pet microchips?

Yes, there are four main types of microchips that have been marketed for use in pets:

  • ISO Conformant Full-Duplex chip2

  • AVID Secure/Encrypted "FriendChip"3

  • U.S. HomeAgain®, AVID "Eurochip": or FECAVA4    

  • "Trovan Unique" and Current AKC CAR chips5

These chips are generally incompatible. One type of reader may not be able to read a competitor's microchip. However, some scanners can read multiple chip types.6

Q. Who manufactures and sells the pet implants?

Wikipedia provides a fairly good overview of the complex—and often contentious—market for animal implants.

The two companies which dominate the U.S. market -- AVID and HomeAgain® -- both sell microchips which are optimized to operate at a frequency of 125 kHz. This allows the scanner of each to detect the presence of the other's microchip, even if it cannot actually decode the chip's encoded or encrypted ID. Some scanners manufactured by Digital Angel/Destron Corp. and distributed by HomeAgain® for shelter use have for some time been able to both detect and decrypt the AVID 'encrypted' ID chip.

Digital Angel/Destron Corp. seems to have been the first, after AVID itself, to join the group of manufacturers who have the secrets needed to recover the registration codes from these chips. Still, some of the Digital Angel/Destron models, (often those used by vets rather than shelters) may only flash an acknowledgment that an AVID chip has been found, with no number given. AVID's base scanner model, however, doesn't even bother to give an indication of the presence of a chip of the type used by HomeAgain®, even through no secrets are needed to fully decode these. A more deluxe AVID scanner model reads both kinds.

In 2004, when Banfield Pet Hospitals 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 could be detected. Customers were not aware that far fewer shelters and clinics were equipped to detect these chips than the other types. Later Banfield advocated double-chipping.

In 2007, when the AKC Companion Animal Registry entered the microchip distribution business, it chose Trovan brand chips. This prompted some to warn that these too were not fully readable by the American scanner infrastructure. One source seems to indicate that many current scanner models don't read the Trovan type.7


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