Microchips lead the way in a new age of horse identification

Reading the microchip of a competition horse.
Reading the microchip of a competition horse.

Microchipping has proved to be an excellent way to protect horses in the aftermath of natural disasters, says agricultural science professor Rebecca McConnico.

McConnico, in a commentary in the latest issue of Equine Disease Quarterly, says many horse owners are looking for ways to protect their animals with the growing occurrence and unpredictable nature of natural disasters.

“Microchipping became especially important in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustave, Ike, and Isaac in Louisiana when many horses were separated from their owners and needed to be identified in order to be reunited.

“Veterinarians working with affected horses in the recent aftermath and recovery efforts in Texas and Florida from hurricanes Harvey and Irma are finding microchipping invaluable with the massive ongoing sheltering operations.

“In addition to disasters, horse theft also is giving horse owners cause to look for guaranteed methods of identifying their horses.”

The Louisiana Tech University professor said microchip identification was an excellent tool for improving the traceability of horses in disease outbreak scenarios and allowed for the rapid and efficient management of investigations to minimize spread of contagious diseases in horses.

“Diseases such as equine herpesviral myeloencephalopathy, strangles, influenza, salmonellosis, and others can spread rapidly and the ability to quickly identify animals aids veterinarians, farm managers, and other animal health professionals in developing the most appropriate action plan to protect them.

She described microchip implantation as safe, simple, and inexpensive, and usually lasted a horse’s entire life.

“The cost is generally about $US50 to $US75 and the chips currently being manufactured are functioning for 25 years or longer.

“The tiny, non-migratory chip is the size of a grain of rice and takes only seconds to implant with a small syringe by a veterinarian or other trained person.”

The chip is implanted halfway between the horse’s poll and withers, just below the mane in the nuchal ligament on the horse’s near (left) side.

“The microchip is encapsulated in glass and is etched with a unique one-of-a-kind number. The accredited veterinarian will use the unique microchip number to record on official health papers and medical records.”

She said it was up to the owner to have that unique code maintained in personal medical records or registered with a commercially available and searchable database.

Handheld scanners are used to read the microchip through the skin of the animal, reading the number on the chip through radio frequency identification technology.

Although there were several different companies making the microchips, most scanners were now considered universal as they are engineered to read a common frequency.

McConnico said microchips were a unique identifier superior to lip tattoos or brands, since brands were not unique per horse and both can be altered or become difficult to read.

Many breed organizations were now requiring microchipping for registration, she said.

“There is really no down-side and no reason that a horse should not have microchip identification.”

Dr Katie Flynn, an equine staff veterinarian with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, said recent advances in microchip technology had made it the desired identification method of the future.

“Concerns have been raised regarding impact of the invasive procedure and longevity of the microchip. However, subsequent microchip implantation studies have proven that microchip administration yields minor transient pain and inflammation at the injection site and minimal microchip migration following the correct implantation in a horse.

“Recently, improved microchip temperature sensing technology has enabled accurate body temperature recording. Not only does this type of chip provide a unique individual identification, but it also provides a value added health monitoring benefit.

“For example, should an equine herpesvirus myeloencephalopathy incident occur at a large boarding facility, management could easily and rapidly monitor temperatures via the biothermal microchip and move horses with elevated temperatures to isolation before the horses start shedding the virus.”

Flynn said the equine industry in the US had embraced the use of microchips for equine identification in the past five years.

In 2008, the Jockey Club began offering microchips for sale to its members. Two-thirds of the 2016 foal crop were voluntarily microchipped, she noted.

The United States Hunter Jumper Association passed a regulation requiring microchips starting in the 2018 competition year.

“During that competition year, any horse wishing to participate in the USHJA points program will require a microchip and for the 2019 competition year, a microchip will be required for all horses competing in USHJA competitions.

“At the recent Equine Identification Forum in January 2017, the industry recognized the great strides that have been taken related to equine identification but agreed that additional efforts are necessary for industry-wide acceptance of microchipping.”

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