A typical pet microchip
In the past couple of years, I’ve noticed a number of posts on the PetFinder.my forum in which members have asked about the benefits, if any, of microchipping their pets. There are a lot of misconceptions about microchips – what they do, and how they work.
Let’s begin with what microchips are not: They are not tracking devices. I think most of us have seen wildlife shows on television in which a biologist attaches an electronic ear tag or some such device to an elk or an elephant and can then trace the animal’s path through the forest or savannah. A microchip, however, is not going to tell you that your dog is halfway to Sunway Lagoon when he runs out of your gate during a thunderstorm. Such a thing would be a godsend to pet-owners, of course, but microchips simply cannot do that.
So what is a microchip, and what does it do? A microchip is a passive electronic device, about the size of a grain of rice, which is injected into your pet. In the case of dogs and cats, the chip is typically implanted between the shoulder blades at the base of the neck. Other species can also be microchipped, including fish, such as Arowana. Someone who thinks to look for it and knows where to check will be able to feel the chip beneath the skin of a dog or cat. The chip stores one piece of information, which is the identity number. The number can later be read by a microchip scanner. Think of it as your pet’s new IC number.
Here comes the problem. (Well, one of the problems — there are quite a few.) In order for this number to be useful, it has to connect to the relevant information about your pet, such as your contact info, pet details, etc. Unfortunately, there is no central database, at least not in Malaysia. PetFinder.my set up what I believe to be the first and only general database to store all the important information about your pet. You can find out more about that here: http://www.petfinder.my/microchip.htm.
A typical pet microchip
Let’s say you decide to microchip Pluto, your dog. You could then go to PetFinder.my and enter Pluto’s and your details into the database. Now let’s say that Pluto decides to go off on a little “holiday” — alone. This is where we meet another set of problems with the microchip concept in Malaysia. Council dog-catchers generally neither know nor care about microchips and so won’t bother feeling around the scruff of Pluto’s neck to look for one. Should some kind soul drop Pluto off at SPCA or PAWS, the shelter staffs generally don’t check either, and neither shelter has a scanner. In the best case, Pluto would end up at a vet clinic — a clinic that has a) a microchip scanner, b) a vet who thinks to check for the presence of a microchip, and c) a vet who knows that PetFinder.my has a centralized database and takes the time to look up Pluto’s number there. Phew! Let’s be honest: you’ll have better luck putting up posters and offering a reward.
Now, if Pluto is a purebred pooch, your chances are slightly better. Repeat: slightly. The Malaysian Kennel Association (MKA) requires its members to microchip all registered puppies before they are sold, and MKA maintains that database. Here’s how that works: let’s say a breeder wants to register a litter of 6 pups. The MKA collects all the data about the pups’ genders, colors, parentage, etc. If everything checks out (both parents are registered, the fees have been paid), MKA issues the registration certificates for the puppies and 6 microchips, to be injected by the breeder’s vet. Do you see the problem with this scheme? At the same time that someone at MKA is typing the information into their database, the vet is injecting the microchips into the pups. It’s possible that chip number 12345, which an administrator at MKA is randomly assigning to an apricot female in the litter, is getting injected into Pluto, a black male. Further, the MKA database will show the name and contact info of the breeder. If no one ever updates that info, there it stays. If you are Pluto’s 3rd or 4th owner, it’s unlikely the breeder will know about you.
People who plan to travel abroad with their pets will likely discover the destination country’s requirement that the animal be microchipped. This is to ensure that the animal who was certified healthy for export in Malaysia is the same animal arriving in, for example, France. Here is where we hit yet another snag in the already jumbled world of microchips: There are different standards for the chips.
If your pet is traveling to Hong Kong, he must have an AVID chip; if he’s going to Europe, there will likely be an ISO-standard which each country will specify. The United States has yet to settle on one standard, and names like Trovan and FECAVA float around there. If your jet-setter show cat is traveling to many different countries, you will need to either implant multiple chips or hope that the authorities have a broad-spectrum scanner which reads several different formats. MAS Kargo has one of these, but there isn’t one at KLIA terminal, so animals which have flown in the passenger compartment as carry-ons will need to have the correct chip for Malaysian standards. If you are microchipping a pet before international travel, be sure to check which type of chip is required!
Microchipping is a technology which could facilitate recovery of lost or stolen animals, but it requires the following to work effectively:
- A centralized and well-maintained database
- People who know to (and are willing to) check for the presence of a microchip
- Scanner operators who know to look in the centralized database for the animal’s record
At the moment, Malaysia has none of the above, or few of them. The centralized database is the key. It would probably make sense for an entity such as the Department of Veterinary Services to manage the data, but that of course requires funding for hardware, software and administration. At present, PetFinder.my’s database is the best place to store your contact information should you decide to microchip your pet. In the meantime, a good old-fashioned name tag with your contact details affixed to your pet’s collar is the best alternative.
- With many thanks to Jimmy Lee and Angela Mun of Home Pet Food & Care in Sri Petaling and owners of Felis Wonder Maine Coons for sharing their time and knowledge with me for this article.