Microchips: Limited Choices

As we wrote in June 2004, microchipping your horse is here to stay, and that is a good thing. Chipping your horse is safe, inexpensive and betters the odds of you finding him if he’s stolen. It’s also an excellent, non-visible means of permanent identification.

Microchipping will help you locate him in case of a weather emergency, like a hurricane or wildfire. Many equine Hurricane Katrina victims were reunited with their owners because of their microchips. (In the state of Louisiana, any horse who has a Coggins test pulled must be identified by brand, lip tattoo, or microchip, so there was a high percentage of chipped horses in the hurricane’s path. We’d like to see more states do this.)

A microchip is a tiny electronic identifying device. It’s about the size of a raw rice grain. It’s housed inside a glass capsule and is inserted into the horse’s neck halfway between withers and poll, just beneath the mane.

A veterinarian injects the chip, which comes in a 12-gauge needle just for this purpose. Most horses don’t need to be tranquilized, and whether their necks need to be shaved for the procedure is up to the vet. Veterinarians charge anywhere from about $30 to $60 to insert the chip.

In one way, shopping for a horse microchip is easy, because there are really only two big companies that supply them to the American horse community — American Veterinary Identification Devices, or AVID, in Folsom, La. (AVID www.avidequineid.com 800-434-2843), and Electronic ID, in Cleburne, Texas (Electronic ID www.electronicidinc.com 800-842-8725). On the other hand, this situation leaves owners with little choice.

The two companies’ products are similar. From either company, $30 will get you a chip, lifetime enrollment in a database, and decals that say your horse is microchipped.

We find that AVID is more consumer-friendly with its easily navigable website and online shopping. Electronic ID also has a website, but you have to print out a form to buy a chip instead of buying online. There are no prices printed on the website, but we were able to call to get a quote.

The debates currently raging about microchips are somewhat technical and have been brought on by the USDA’s Animal I.D. Program, which was originally designed to track farm animals in cases of mad cow disease or a bioterrorist attack on the American food supply.

The chip that the Equine Species Working Group task force recommended to comply with this program was originally the 134 kiloHertz chip, also called the 15-digit chip or the ISO chip. The American Horse Council’s website still recommends that chip, but it also concedes that, “The recent introduction of the 11784/11785 microchip technology which has 15 characters and operates at 134.2 kHz has the potential to cause problems because most of the existing 125 kHz scanners cannot read the 134.2 kHz microchips.”

In other words, most of the American horses that are already microchipped have the 125 kH, or 10-digit, chip. Many of the scanners that read microchips — owned by animal-control officers, slaughterhouses, sheriff’s departments, and veterinarians — read only 125 kH ones. This means that if you select a 134 kH chip, and your horse is lost in a wildfire or hurricane, the scanners at the rescue center may not be able to read his chip.

This leaves consumers in a tough position. Do you go along with what may or may not be the way of the future — the 134 kH chip — or use the 125 kHone that is already in use here’ We recommend sticking with the 125 kH chip. That way, your horse is protected as soon as he is chipped. It could be years before the 134 kH chips are standard in America. Also, because horses live so long, chances are good that even if 134 kH chips become mandated, the scanners that can read them will also be able to read the 125 kH ones, since so much of the existing horse population is chipped with 125 kH chips.

In 2004, there was a lawsuit about a dog who had been chipped with a 15-digit chip in Stafford County, Va. The shelter’s scanner — equipped only to read 125 kH chips, was unable to read the 134 kH chip, and the dog was accidentally euthanized. We don’t want this to happen to our horses. (As you probably are aware, the pet industry has been using microchips for many years.)

We wish that the industry and government would work this out. If there is a nationwide standard someday, we would chip our horses to that standard. As the situation stands, however, there is no plan for the American transition to the 134 kH chip, and it is too scary to think that a horse who mistakenly shows up at a slaughterhouse tomorrow could be unidentifiable simply because of radio frequency.

Test Horse
Our test case was a 12-year-old bay unregistered Quarter Horse gelding. Since the horse has no papers and no white markings, his owner worried about identifying him if he ever was lost or stolen.

In this case, AVID offered the answer. It was quick and easy to order just one chip online, and with one veterinary appointment the gelding was identified. He got an AVID 125 kH microchip, and the procedure cost $35.

Both Owen and Jean Anne Mayhall, vice president of AVID, recommend freeze branding along with a chip. Owen likened it to having both a license plate (a brand) and vehicle identification number (chip) on your car. However, freeze branding leaves an obvious mark on your horse, and we’re not that enthused.

Bottom Line
Microchipping is too inexpensive and too simple not to take the time to do so. We also suspect that this will become standard for breed industries, too, in order to prevent “identity theft.” It’s a simpler procedure than lip tattoos or branding.

The Friesian breed is leading the way with microchipping, requiring registered horses to do so. This isn’t suprising, given that the breed standard is for a solid black horse with minimal to no white hairs.

Most importantly, though, it could save your horse’s life if he becomes stolen or lost due to a national disaster. There’s little reason not to request that your veterinarian inject your horse on his or her next visit.

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