MicroChips: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Loss of a beloved pet or valued bird is a painful experience. However, there are some measures you can take to help find or identify your bird if this happens to you. One of these is the use of a microchip, a tiny device which can be inserted into your pet by means of a simple injection. Bird breeders and pet owners across the country are implanting microchips in their birds as a means of positive identification. The chip is implanted under the skin and resides there as a small non-intrusive and foolproof method of permanently identifying a bird.

Chips are not limited to birds, but are being used for all types of animals. Their use is growing in popularity with zoos, such as the San Diego Zoo, and with owners and breeders of expensive animals. They are also gaining in popularity with dog and cat owners. Many shelters now routinely check stray animals for chips. The chips have enabled shelters to identify and find owners, saving the lives of animals who would have previously been put to sleep.

The microchip is a tiny computer chip about the size of a grian of rice with a unique identification number programmed into it. The chip is placed in a hypodermic needle and then injected under the skin, where it stays permanently. For most birds this is usually above the breast muscle. It is a simple and safe procedure, done by a veterinarian, which requires no anesthesia. It will not move in the body and cannot be lost, altered or removed. The chip, which is harmless to the animal, lasts for decades and need never be disturbed. There is no power supply nor moving parts to worry about.

Since a microchip is invisible to the naked eye, a ‘reader’ or ‘scanner’ is required to retrieve the ID number on the chip. These devices use a radio signal to read the number on the chip. The chip can also be seen, but not read, on an x-ray.

Once a chip is inserted into a bird, it needs to be registered with a recovery network. For a small one-time fee, the recovery network stores the pet’s chip number and owner information in a database. If a pet with an implanted a chip is found, the network is called and it will immediately contact the owner, or an alternate, so that the pet can be recovered. Most networks maintain a 24 hour, 7 days per week answering service.

Why Use a Microchip

The basic reason for chipping is for reliable identification of a bird. It is safe and unlike leg bands, cannot be easily removed.

A chip will help in retrieving a lost or stolen bird, if found by others. Further, since a chip is permanent, it can act as a deterrent to potential thieves. Chips can be quickly read with a scanner and traced via a registry. Some leg bands are traceable, but only to the breeder or importer, not the current owner. The breeder or importer may be able to provide further information, but the process, even if successful, will take time. DNA fingerprinting, another method, also takes time and will require a fee.

Some breeders chip a bird in order to identify and keep records on a bird’s history for tracking gene pools and variety. Chips also enable them to differentiate among similar birds in an aviary.

Many government agencies require permits to import/export, transport or keep a bird. Getting a permit involves being able to uniquely identify a bird. Currently leg bands are the accepted method. However, chips are slowly gaining in acceptance.

Sometimes a leg band is removed for health reasons or because an owner fears possible injury to the bird. Veterinarians often supply certificates verifying leg band removal. If the certificate is coupled with a chip ID, this provides a continuing identification of the bird, both for legal and resale purposes.

Inserting the Microchip

Microchipping can be done by a veterinarian, clinic, zoo or other qualified person. Fees should range in the area of $25-$50.

The main consideration should be the brand of microchip used. There are several companies offering microchips, each using different ID numbers and chip encoding techniques. These companies also manufacture scanners to read their chips. Unfortunately there is no standardization in the industry, so the information on a chip can only be read by a scanner which understands the manufacturer’s coding technique. For this reason, it is important to choose a brand of microchip which is broadly used. This will make it more likely that someone will have the proper scanner to read the chip if the pet is found.

Well known chips used in the USA include AVID, Home Again™ (Destron) and InfoPET(Trovan). PetNet (Anitech) is common throughout Canada.

The following information is by no means complete, but offered for reference. Many bird breeders use AVID microchips. AVID chips are required by the Ratite industry, endorsed by 11 veterinary medical associations and used by Seaworld and some zoos. The American Kennel Club (AKC) endorses Home Again™ (a Destron chip)and uses it in it’s AKC Club clinics. The ASPCA uses Trovan (InfoPET) in its clinics and recommends it to animal care and control facilities across the US. Trovan has been adopted worldwide by the International Union of Conservation of Nature for captive breeding programs. Some zoos also use this chip.

Scanners (Chip Readers)

Scanners tend to be expensive and so are usually found at veterinarians, hopitals, clinics, shelters, zoos, large breeders or other pet oriented locations. Prices vary from as low as $250 to over $1000. Since the chip encoding techniques are different, most scanners can only read the chips manufactured by the same company, which requires a significant monetary investment.

AVID has been working on a universal scanner. The current model can read AVID and one of the two Destron chips. The latest model, now being tested at humane societies, can also read the Trovan and both Destron chips.

Recovery Networks

There are a number of registry and recovery networks to choose from. Many of the chip manufacturers and distributors such as Avid (Petrac), InfoPET (InfoPet Registry) and PetNet provide such a service. Some register pets with any brand of chips. Other networks, such as IdentIchip Identification and Recovery System and AKC Companion Animal Recovery, concentrate solely on registration and recovery, registering pets with all makes of chips. Some services carry alternate names to contact in case you are unreachable in an emergency – a nice feature. One-time registration fees vary from $7.00 – $25.00 per pet with special rates for breeders and owners of multiple pets.

IdentIchip is the official registry of the state of New Jersey. AKC Companion Animal is used by members of the AKC. Many humane societies, animal shelters and veterinarians use AVID’s PETtrac and InfoPET’s Registry. The ASPCA uses InfoPET.

With multiple recovery networks in existence, one question which immediately comes to mind is, how will someone know which network to call to find your pet’s information? A pet is usually registered with only one network. Multiple registrations would be costly and confusing. In our discussions with a number of networks and manufacturers, we were assured that the registry services work with each other. If they don’t have the pet information in their files, they will refer the person inquiring to other possible sources.

Deciding to microchip your pet is a personal decision. Hopefully the information contained here will help you in making an informed one.

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