by Patty Mead
1997: It used to be the only way to mark your dog with identification indicating ownership was through dog tags, collars with names and addresses, and tattoos (which we will talk about at a later date). Now, and for the past decade, microchips have become recognized as the most permanent and unalterable of all options for marking ownership of your dog. This article was pulled together from a variety of sources included discussions with our vet, articles from all the major USA dog magazines, and promotional materials from the manufacturer of these chips. If you have something to add to this article write to us and we'll update the article. Thanks.
The concept of using microchips for identification was developed in the early 1970's by Hannis Stoddard, DVM. Along with engineer Mike Beiel, they designed a chip to be used for birds although the first test of the chip was done on a horse ( as of 12/93, the Gazette reported the horse was still experiencing no trouble with the implant). The chip continued under development and shrank in size from the original 3 inch long by 1.5 inch wide chip to the current chip which is about 1/2 inch long and approximately 4/32's inch in diameter.
We spoke with Dr. Linda Amezcua with the Linda Mar Veterinary Clinic (Pacifica, California) to find out how the chip is implanted in a normal procedure. A computer chip is encoded with a unique number (which the computer industry normally does with all of its chips). The chip is attached to a coil that acts like an antenna. The whole gizmo is encapsulated in a special type of glass to finally look like a small, slender capsule. (The glass is the type used in prosthetic devices for humans.) There are no batteries -- nothing to wear out or replace.
To insert the device, the veterinarian uses a tool that is similar to a syringe and injects the device into the dog's body just under its skin and between the shoulder blades. It is important that your veterinarian implants the device so it is located in the proper location and the possibility of its migrating throughout the dog's body is prevented (although some do come with antimigrating anchors). The actual insertion takes only a few minutes and you are literally in and out of the vet's office in no time. What takes a bit longer is the paperwork; a form is filled out with the device's number, along with information about you and your dog, (and a check, of course) must be sent to the registry.
Now, if you need to remove the chip for some unknown reason, it can be done. But the key here is that it cannot be done easily. The dog needs to be anesthetized and the chip surgically removed. Thus, while tattoos can be marked over and collars easily removed the chip must be surgically removed which requires time and equipment (not to mention that the removal will leave a scar easily checked).
When a dog is found with no identification, a scanner is run over the area where the device would normally be found. The scanner emits a low frequency radio wave that the chip can pick up. The chip bounces the scanner signal back and the scanner not only picks up the returned scan but the chip's unique number as well. Then the number that the device sent is checked against a national database (usually via a toll-free 24-hour phone call available to all veterinarians, animal shelters, and laboratories) and the caller is immediately informed as to the owner of the animal. (Not just anyone can call. Each location authorized to install and read the chips has a special pin type number that allows them to identify themselves as people who should appropriately be asking for this information. Thus, even if someone stole a scanner, they could not gain access to the database information without a facilities pin number.
So, if the microchip is easy to install, is long lasting and as permanent as anything is these days, why aren't more people using it as a means of identification? One possible answer is that the chips are not visible and, unless you scan a dog, you may not know it has a chip. However, laboratories testing on animals are supposed to scan each dog prior to its use in the lab to see if it has a chip. If it does, the dog is not to be used. Humane Societies and many veterinarian offices have spent hundreds of dollars required to purchase a scanner and will routinely scan strays to see if the owners can be found.
The other larger concern, I think, is there are no standards in place even now among the chip makers. The standards I am speaking of here are: location of chip, process for anchoring the chip in place, ensuring chips and scanners are compatible, and linking all the databases together for each of use. For instance, Chenoa is implanted with a chip that our county uses and has agreed to use. However, if we move out of county to an area that has settled on a different chip, once they scanned all they would know is that our dog has a chip but not necessarily her number and with whom she is registered. This of course is close to being settled as the makers of databases, chips, and scanners agree on standards.
The issues surrounding this new technology is challenging, but not insurmountable. As with all technology, there will be some sort of standardization and I expect the chips to become smarter and smaller and the costs for the chips, registry, and scanners to come down, too. The AKC supports this technology, but cautions that to really reap the rewards, we need to all embrace the technology. They mean breeders, dog owners, and veterinarians.
At the same time, new technology, as we all have learned, is not the total answer to today's problems. Common sense and care for your dog will aid in never having to rely on these chips. Normal precautions such as fences, leashes, training your dog, and so on, do the most good to ensure you never lose your dog.