Chip Off the Old Writer’s Block
Hello again, Bored Surfer!
Welcome to the August edition of BLOG blog. If you are overwhelmed by the specter of the social and public health ramifications of hordes of children returning to school this year, you can direct your attention (temporarily) to these unrelated observances:
Aug 1 is Spider-Man Day. Please remember that with great power there must also come great responsibility. As this message too often goes unheeded, it is important that the masses unite in the quest for accountability from elected officials and secret agencies like “The Shop”.
August 5 is National Underwear Day. Celebration of this day could take many forms indeed, but I shall tactfully abstain from further discussion.
The 19th is National Potato day. Beware the blight that (along with a mash- up of social and economic factors) caused the Great Hunger and enjoy some tastily-prepared tubers.
You don’t need a reason for your actions on Just Because Day (Aug 27), but please commemorate this day responsibly.
Aug 15 is Check the Chip day. While the name seems nonspecific and could refer to any kind of chip (I am personally quite fond of the chocolate variety), it actually refers to microchips. The microchips being recognized are those used for identification, not the crumbs at the bottom of a bag of Lay’s.
A microchip is described succinctly (by the AKC) as a radio frequency identification transponder. Along with a plethora of diversions about other fascinating topics, Science.HowStuffWorks.com has a wonderfully in-depth explanation of the inner workings of a microchip. I shall now attempt to summarize it in a coherent manner.
The microchips implanted in animals (and yes, Mulder, in some case humans) are usually contained within a 12 mm long capsule (approximately the same size as a grain of rice). The capsule is made of nontoxic glass material. It may also feature a polypropylene polymer cap that, upon insertion into the body, stimulates the growth of fibrous connective tissue around the chip to prevent it from moving to another part of the body, or out of the body altogether.
Inside the capsule is the tiny silicon computer chip itself that contains the identification number. There is no power source within the chip assembly, so a scanner (or reader) is necessary to retrieve the information. A tuning capacitor within the microchip capsule receives electromagnetic power from the scanner and transfers the energy to the chip. The microchip responds with radio waves (via a copper coil antenna) that transmit the digital data to the scanner and the id number is displayed on an LCD screen.
The technology used for microchips is known as radiofrequency identification (RFID). It has many other applications including, but not limited to: product tracking, timing marathon runners, the EZ pass toll system and bovine ear tags (cow and buffalo chips). It can also be found in library books, passports, luggage tags, Saguaro cacti, theme park tickets, golf balls (making every shot is a chip shot) and poker chip chips. Usually these are passive RFID tags, which have no battery and rely on the power provided by the scanner. There is an active form of RFID, which has a greater range, but batteries are required. Of course, this does raise the dilemma of how you will locate the transmitter to replace the batteries when they wear out.
In the US, there are many different brands of microchips used in pets. While they all use the same concept, some products use different lengths of radio waves to transmit the stored information. As you may (or may not) remember from physics class: as wavelength gets longer, the number of waves that can occur in a given time period gets smaller, and therefore the lower the frequency; shorter wavelengths allow more repetitions in the same amount of time, hence higher frequency. The global standard for microchips in animals, established by the appropriately named International Standards Organization (ISO), is the frequency of 134.2 kHz (kHz = kiloHertz = 1,000 wave cycles per second; you can insert your own OJ joke here if you deem it necessary). While there are scanners meant to read multiple frequencies, animals who may be traveling to locations outside the US would be best served with ISO standard chips.
Here at Best Care, we use the ISO standard 134.2 kHz microchips from HomeAgain. The current version also features Tempscan, which provides important health information from a device significantly less intrusive than a rectal thermometer.
The device used for the chipping procedure does not look anything like the movie prop at the tourist information center in Fargo, North Dakota. It actually looks like a syringe with an attached needle. The needle used is larger than the ones used for routine injections. Needle diameter is expressed by the Birmingham gauge system, which originated as a way to measure the thickness of metal wire. The process of wire making involved pulling (drawing) an iron rod through conical holes of decreasing size until the desired thickness was achieved. The number of holes the wire was drawn through determined the gauge, so the more times it was drawn through a plate, the thinner the wire and the higher the gauge.
The needle used to implant microchips beneath an animal’s skin is usually 12 g, which means it has a diameter of 2.769 mm (0.109 in). It can be a bit intimidating, as it is noticeably bigger than the 16-18 g needles used for blood donations. It is, however, significantly smaller than the similarly named 12 gauge shotgun shell (18.5 mm/ 0.73 in) and infinitesimal compared to Seattle’s Space Needle (42062.4mm/138 ft). The site for microchip placement varies with species. An intriguing list of recommended sites for various species (including hyrax and vultures) can be found at the World Small Animal Veterinary website wsava.org. In many countries (including the US) dog and cat microchips are placed subcutaneously (under the skin) between the shoulder blades. However, in some other nations, the left side of the neck is the preferred site.
As you have undoubtedly already deduced, the purpose of the microchip is permanent identification. There are circumstances under which even well- behaved pets can get separated from their owners. They can also get separated from their collar and tags (cats are especially adept at this). A microchip will stay with them throughout their travels. This is evidenced every few years by a national news story about a pet that was gone for years and found hundreds (or thousands) of miles away and reunited with their owner thanks to the microchip. If a time comes when you will travel internationally with your pet (hard to imagine at this particular juncture, but eventually it will be possible again), they might very well need a microchip to be admitted to another country. There are some locales where resident pets are required to be microchipped. If you live in England, Scotland or Wales, microchips have been required for dogs since 2016. In the US, there are examples of local ordinances requiring pet microchips in the county of Los Angeles and the city of Dallas.
There are also some microchip applications that can be used on a daily basis. Some new-fangled devices are available that use the microchip to control access to resources. For example, there is a pet door that will only allow your (microchipped) pets to go in and out of your house. You will no longer have to worry about feral cats, raccoons, coyotes, the Wet Bandits, alligators, rodents of unusual size, emus, skunks, the high school principal, deer, opossums and whatever else may be lurking in your neighborhood sneaking into your house (via the dog door, that is - there’s no guarantee they won’t find another way). You could also install one inside your house so certain pets could have access to a particular room and others could be excluded. For example, if you had a designated feline suite, resident cats could go in at their leisure to eat and use the litterbox without being interrupted by dogs (or small children).
There are also special food dishes that will only open for the bearer of the specified microchip. This is the automated version of a zookeeper who needs to feed only a select few out of a bunch of almost identical, communally housed snakes. Since they won’t come when called, it is necessary to scan the microchips to determine whose turn it is to get fed, then move that particular snake to a separate location for their private serving of rodent tartare. In your house, the controlled access feeding system could be very beneficial if one pet does not respect the dietary wants and needs of their housemates. It may also allow you to make sure only one (and the correct one) of the pets is eating special prescription food. There is even a feeder that measures how much food is consumed.
There are a few important considerations about having your pet microchipped. The main one is that the information contained within the chip can only be accessed through the use of a scanner that uses the correct frequency. While universal readers that can read multiple frequencies are routinely used by veterinary clinics and animal control facilities, they are not often found amongst the general citizenry. The average person would not be aware of the microchip, unless they took the found pet to the vet or humane society. This could hinder the speedy return of your beloved pet. If, however, they found their way to a scanner-equipped facility, their chances of being returned to you are greatly improved.
Remember that the microchip does not have a power source of its own. It responds to the energy produced by the scanner, and needs to be in close proximity of the scanner. This means it cannot be used to track your pet by satellite. While it is highly likely that someday a GPS tracking device that is small enough to be routinely implanted and has a battery life as long as your pet’s will be economically feasible for the majority of pet owners, it has not yet come to pass. It is also probable that by the time that level of technology becomes that cheap and widely available, any pretense of privacy will be a distant memory.
The microchip only contains a unique id number (similar to a barcode). To find out information about the owner, the finder needs to consult the microchip database. At this time, there is no universal database. Petmicrochiplookup.org is a website created by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) to provide contact information for the database where the microchip is registered. If the microchip has not been registered, this website provides contact information for the chip’s manufacturer or distributor. The site only gives contact info for the registries that choose to participate and does not provide information about owners. The finder needs to call the applicable registry to initiate contact with the owner.
Are you worried that nefarious outside forces will use the microchip to glean information about your whereabouts, activities and acquaintances? It may be possible, but it would be not be particularly feasible. It’s much simpler and cheaper for Big Brother to mine the wealth of data in your phone, your smart toilet (you do NOT want to be around when that appliance becomes self-aware) your car, your TV and other electronic devices. Besides, dogs and cats usually don’t have credit cards, so Skynet has little interest in their affairs.
The microchip registry can only use the data you provide. It is your responsibility to make sure the info is current. You supply your contact information when your pet is chipped, and update it when necessary. Please note that after you have registered the chip, the registry will keep in it on file forever.
There should not be any required costs after initial registration. You do not have to pay an annual fee for to keep the number active. Any additional services the company offers in exchange for additional fees are optional.
If you license your pet, make sure your local humane society or animal control office has the microchip on file. If your pet gets lost, there’s a good chance they will be involved in the recovery.
If you move or get a new phone number, please please please contact the microchip company to inform them. You do not want the finder of your pet becoming the keeper because they can’t locate you.
Adverse microchip events are not common, but need to be mentioned nonetheless.
As previously stated, the insertion of the microchip requires a larger-than- average needle. This can cause short-lived stress and discomfort in conscious pets. You may not want to have it performed on your pet’s introductory vet visit. Also consider having your new pet microchipped while they are anesthetized for their spay/neuter surgery.
In some cases, the chip may migrate from its original location to another spot inside the animal’s body over the course of a lifetime. There have also been some instances where the chip was expelled from the body due to an inflammatory response. I’m reasonably sure this was a gradual reaction and thechip was not forcibly ejected at high speed.
There are also a few reports of chip failure, where the chip’s presence was confirmed by x-rays, but it could not be read. Even less commonly have been reports of swelling or infection at the injection site.
Finally, you may have heard that microchips cause cancer. While I cannot say absolutely and unequivocally that they never have and never will, I can confidently tell you that the possibility is exceedingly remote with the microchips that are currently on the market. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (avma.org) there have been cases of possibly microchip induced tumors in 2 dogs and 2 cats, but in at least half of those cases (1 dog and 1 cat), the cause-effect link was not definitive. There have also been reports of lab rats sprouting tumors in the vicinity of their microchips, but they were also cancer- prone rats involved in a cancer study, so it is very difficult to attribute the tumors directly to the microchips.
Despite their shortcomings, microchips are a safe and reliable form of permanent identification. If your pet does not already have one, please consider having one implanted. If your pet already has one, please confirm that the information the registry has on file is accurate.
Thank you for joining me for another splendid installment of BLOG blog. Farewell until next time, Bored Surfer!
Dr. Debbie Appleby