New Mexico's Pet Resource SUMMER 2005


To Chip or Not To Chip?

by Nancy Marano

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Seeing a cat without a collar doesn’t necessarily mean that she has no home, although that’s what most of us assume. If you take a lost cat to the local animal shelter or to your veterinarian, one of the first things they’ll do is scan for a microchip to tell them whether the animal has owners and, if so, how to locate them.


There are three equally important components to any microchip identification system: the microchip, the scanner and the registry. Microchips are tiny devices injected between an animal’s shoulder blades that contain information on how to locate the animal’s owner. The chips, about the size of a grain of rice, operate on ultra short-range frequency radio waves. The scanner is a device used to read the microchip, and the registry is a database that lists contact information for the animal’s owner. These components must work together for an animal to be identified and returned to the owner.

AVID and HomeAgain are the two microchips most commonly used in the United States. Albuquerque shelters are required to microchip every animal adopted from them. The Albuquerque Animal Care Center implants the AVID chip while Animal Humane Association of New Mexico (AHANM) uses the HomeAgain chip. Shelter animals are registered to the shelter. If they are lost and found, they would be returned to the shelter after being scanned for a chip.


A scanner is a hand-held device used to read the information on the microchip. Scanners are distributed to shelters, veterinarians, and some rescue groups by the microchip manufacturers. Before 1996 each chip needed its own scanner, making it time-consuming for shelters to use them. In 1996 Schering Plough Animal Health, maker of the HomeAgain chip, developed a universal scanner that could read both AVID and HomeAgain chips.


AVID and HomeAgain each has a registry for its own chips. The American Kennel Club Companion Animal Rescue (AKC/CAR) also has a registry that will register any type of identification whether it is a microchip, collar tag, or tattoo. When you have your cat microchipped, you must follow through and register the cat with one of these services. If you don’t register your cat, the microchip is of no value. Each registry charges a fee to register your companion animal. The HomeAgain Recovery Service charges a $17.00 registration fee per pet in addition to the veterinarian’s fee for implanting the chip. AVID’s system charges $15.00 per pet or $40 for up to eight pets.

AKC/CAR, a non-profit organization affiliated with the American Kennel Club, charges $12.50 for registration. “AKC/CAR is not affiliated with any microchip manufacturers. “As a neutral party we enroll all identified pets, regardless of identification brand. Our only concern is your pet,” said Kim Macklin, Marketing Administrator for the AKC. “So far we’ve enrolled over 30 species in our service. Along with cats and dogs we have some pot-bellied pigs, a two-toed sloth, and some seals.”


Controversy is swirling around microchips again. In 2003, the ISO chip, the standard in 157 countries, was introduced into the United States. However, ISO chips operate on a different frequency than the chips used here. Currently there is no global scanner in the U.S. capable of reading all frequencies.

The U.S. manufacturers are in no hurry to convert to the world standard. Instead, lawsuits and patent disputes keep the ISO chip from being used here. However, AVID did create a global scanner for use in Canada.

“The Canadians did it right. They took a national stand and said that if any manufacturers wanted to sell their products in Canada, the chip had to be capable of universal scanning. That’s what we need to do here,” says John Snyder, Director of Companion Animals at the Humane Society of America (HSUS).

To facilitate this, a group of animal organizations including HSUS, American Veterinary Medical Association, AKC/CAR and many others have formed the Coalition for Reuniting Pets and Families. A major pet food company has even offered to donate 30,000 global scanners to shelters, veterinarians and rescue groups if all the microchip manufacturers in the United States cooperate.


Most shelters and rescue groups still recommend using a microchip and registering it with one of the registries. But, as a safety backup, they also suggest using a collar and tag. At this point HSUS is suggesting that people use the collar and tag only and don’t microchip until global scanners are available.

Currently the use of microchips in the U.S. pet population is low. Even people who have paid to have a chip implanted forget to register it, rendering it useless. In a recent survey by the makers of the ISO chip, they learned that 89% of the population didn’t know the United States was one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t have a universal (or global) scanner that can read all microchips.

According to Snyder, “If the United States does not adopt a global scanner, pet owners run the risk of losing the beloved pet that the microchip is supposed to protect.”

The medical safety of the chips isn’t in dispute, and many cats have been returned home because of them. However, you might consider waiting until the controversy is settled before getting a microchip for your cat. Whether it is a microchip, ID tag, or tattoo, don’t forget to register the type of identification on your cat. Your companion is too precious to lose.

For further information check:
AKC Companion Animal Recover -
Avid -
HomeAgain Recovery Service -

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who lives in Albuquerque and is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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