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Short Takes: the dilemma of microchip scanners; and is there a microchip cancer link?

No Resolution for Microchip Mess

When a stray dog with an identification microchip under its skin is found, there's a pretty good chance--but not 100 percent certainty--that the animal shelter or veterinary clinic will have the right scanner to read the microchip.

Until recently, about 98 percent of microchips in American dogs and cats operated at one frequency (125 kHz). But a growing number respond to the frequency used in most other countries (the International Standards Organization or ISO-endorsed 134.2 kHz). So the microchips now being introduced by the Bayer company, the American Kennel Club and the Banfield chain of clinics cannot be read by 80 percent of the scanners in use in the U.S.

For the finder of your dog, this can be as frustrating as trying to operate a DVD player with the remote for the television. Oh, but I have a universal remote for all my electronics, you say. Why not have universal microchip scanners?


That's what the U.S. Senate figured when it ordered the USDA to set standards for microchip scanners. Sorry, boss, no can do.

Actually, the Secretary of Agriculture said something about the Animal Welfare Act not granting the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service power to mandate standards, according to a report in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMAVol 238, No. 8).

American microchip companies vigorously defend their technology patents and won't make scanners that read both 125 kHz and 134.2 kHz chips, according to the JAVMA article. Meanwhile, the American Animal Hospital Association, the ASPCA and the AVMA want the American microchip industry to adopt the ISO standard. What a mess!

Our advice is this: Before getting the next microchip for your dog, ask whose scanners can read the chip. And get it in writing.

At Least Microchips Don't Cause Cancer ... Or Do They?

The same issue of the veterinary association's journal (JAVMA Vol. 238, No. 8) expressed "concern" about press reports and some studies linking microchips "commonly implanted in cats and dogs to cancer in dogs and laboratory animals."

Don't rush to judgment, the AVMA advises. For one thing, the scientific studies might be flawed (animals in the experiments were genetically predisposed to cancer). A tiny fraction of all dogs with microchips develops tumors at the site. And in the big picture, microchips do more good than harm.

Dog Watch Short Takes agrees, in part: Microchips have a key role in reuniting lost dogs with their owners. But this is sounding more and more like the quandary posed by feline vaccine-associated sarcoma. The vaccines are lifesavers, to be sure. If you don't remember how that one turned out, read our companion publication, CatWatch.

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Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Jan 1, 2008
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