High Tech Lost and Found – Microchip ID For Pets Not Yet The Answer

For more than 15 years, pet owners have heard about the security and peace of mind that microchip identification can bring. But with new and confusing additions to the market, plus several competing database sites, just how safe is your pet? Is it possible that your microchipped pet might not make it home? This high tech identification for pets is a great idea, but may not be ready for prime time.

Without a doubt, microchips provide the most reliable and most secure method of identifying your pet. But, with the never-ending controversy over different types of microchips, can you really rely on this “high-tech” ID tag?

Candy and Tony Abercrombie trusted that they had done a good thing to protect their pets. Every one of their four dogs had a microchip implanted so that they could be easily identified if they were ever lost or stolen. But, what happened one day when two of their dogs, Romie and Max, ran away? Little did they know that both dogs could have been lost forever. What went wrong? How did a safe, secure, and “fool-proof” pet ID fail these pet owners?

Essentially, microchips are computer chips about the size of a grain of rice. Easily implanted under your pet’s skin by a hypodermic needle, microchips provide permanent identification that won’t wear out, fade, or get lost if the pet runs away. Special scanners find the microchip and can translate into a specific ID code. These unique numbers can then be found on a database and, with luck, the owners can be contacted and the family will be together again.

The first issue that nearly cost Romie her life was the fact that there are multiple chips being marketed today with at least four different types of frequencies. Over the last 17 years, the predominant frequency in the United States has been the 125 kHz frequency. Romie had a different chip, one that emits a frequency of 134.2 kHz, otherwise known as an ISO chip. The local animal shelter was using a scanner designed for 125 kHz chips and actually missed Romie’s chip!

Luckily, a shelter employee recognized Romie and was able to contact Candy promptly. This confusion of frequencies has caused a storm of controversy. According to Dr. Dan Knox of the AVID Company, a U.S. microchip pioneer, these multiple frequencies will continue to put pets at risk by confusing the system. “There are more than 100,000 scanners capable of identifying chips at 125 kHz in shelters currently. Adding new frequencies will only cause more work for under-staffed shelters and will potentially be dangerous to pets.”

Dr. Knox’s concern was validated in 2004 when a young dog was euthanized after a Virginia shelter failed to find a microchip. The dog had been implanted with the ISO standard chip and the shelter could not read this chip.

With the exception of the United States, the rest of the world has been using the ISO chip for identification. Recently, 2 major veterinary pharmaceutical companies have teamed up with microchip manufacturers to create a stronger support system for the ISO chip by handing out more than 60,000 new scanners that are capable of reading all four frequencies in use. Julie Lux of HomeAgain Pet Recovery says that “our first focus is to protect the pet. We want to make the job of the veterinarian, the shelter worker, or pet rescuer easier so that more pets make it home.”

But the mixed up frequencies are not the only real problem with this high tech system. Remember Max? Max almost didn’t make it home despite the shelter finding his chip. Max had never been registered into a database. When the shelter scanned his chip, the ID code told them that this particular chip had been sold to a particular veterinary hospital. When contacted, the veterinarian had kept proper records of all chips implanted and they were able to send Max home. Not exactly how this “high-tech” lost and found system is designed to work!

This second major issue then is that many pets are not properly registered. In fact, Michael Gendreau, product manager for the ResQ® ISO chip manufactured by the Bayer Company states that less than half of microchipped pets have been entered accurately into any database – a major fault with this system. Ms Lutz agrees and adds “15% of Americans move every year. With everything that happens in a move, how many people will remember to change the address and phone number for their pet’s microchip?”

homeagainscannerchip2All of the microchip manufacturers agree that veterinarians and shelters must be strongly proactive in finding ways of getting the information into an easily accessible national database, something that is not currently available. Unfortunately, it appears that many of the registration websites are complicated and not very user friendly. Pet owners have reported failure to receive confirmation of registration and have even had trouble inputting any other information, such as rabies tag numbers. Some of the marketing has gotten so out of hand that the AVMA is debating a resolution to help curb problems. According to Ralph Johnson, Executive Director of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association, “Pet recovery databases should be used solely for the purpose of bringing pets home and not for medical records access or marketing purposes.”

These problems are obviously overwhelming to pet owners and veterinarians are concerned as well. This wonderful technology is simply not ready for prime time. Old fashioned methods, such as ID collars or a “get me home tag” (www.getmehome.com) a free service, should be used along with the microchip until issues can be resolved – hopefully sooner rather than later. Visit www.MyVNN.com to monitor this story and watch a video to help clarify the confusion.