This week - 12th to 19th August - is National Chipping Week in Ireland. During this week, all pet owners are being asked to focus on their pet's microchip. Has your pet been microchipped? If not, why not? And is the information recorded on the chip database up to date?
Microchips are tiny, rice-sized, silicon-coated cylinders that are technically known as RFID devices. In the pet world, they are used to provide permanent identification of pets, by being injected under the skin of animals. They can be used in any animal, from dogs to cats to parrots to tortoises, and it's been compulsory to have all dogs microchipped since 2016.
RFID is an acronym for "radio-frequency identification". It's like barcode scanners that work using radiowaves rather than lightwaves. So whereas a bar code scanner has to shine the light directly onto the bar code, microchip scanners can read through short distances of opaque material like skin and muscle.
The microchip is a tiny radio transmitter with two key features. First, its radio message only contains one thing: a fifteen digit number, like a barcode. And second, this radio message is only transmitted intermittently, when a microchip scanner is passed over it. The radio message is converted by the scanner to a fifteen digit number that can be read on the screen of the scanner.
A fifteen digit number is virtually unique: it means that there are a hundred trillion possible numbers. This means that when your dog is microchipped, you can be confident that no other dog in the world will carry the same fifteen digit number.
A key point is that this fifteen digit number is the only information on the microchip: by itself, the number is useless. If you just know that a dog has a long number, it does not help you call its owner or find out where the dog lives. The number has to be stored in a database where it's labelled with the pet owner's full contact details. So when someone looks up your dog's number in the microchip database, they will be able to find your contact details, such as mobile phone, home address and email address.
It's important that this information is not available to everyone who wants to look: privacy laws mean that only properly authorised people (such as vets, dog pounds and most rescues) are able to access microchip databases.
Microchips have transformed the world of pet identification. In the past, a collar and tag was used, and this still has its place: someone can easily read a dog's tag, without the need for a scanner, and simple information (such as your phone number) can be written on the tag, allowing a lost dog to be returned to their owner. The problem with ID tags is that the writing can become faded and illegible, the collar or tag can fall off, or someone could deliberately remove them. In contrast, microchips are there for the entire lifetime of the animal.
So if a dog is microchipped as a young puppy (which it now has to be, in Ireland), then it's identified for life from the beginning. This involves an injection: the microchip is in a syringe needle, just like a vaccination, except that it's a solid object rather than a small bleb of liquid.
Under Irish law, puppies must be microchipped before they change hands, whether being sold (like most pedigree pups) or just being given free of charge to a new owner (like most cross-bred dogs, and rescue dogs).
This microchipping must be done by a registered microchip implanter, usually a vet or a vet nurse. Special forms have to be used, and special government-registered microchip databases must be used. There are four such databases in Ireland - Fido, Animark, Irish Kennel Club, and Microdog ID Ltd. All four databases send data to a central European dog microchip database, known as Europetnet. This means that if someone finds your dog, they just need to enter the number into one search engine, at Europetnet. This will redirect them to the local Irish database.
Under Irish law, as well as having your dog microchipped, you must also be in possession of a Statutory Certificate of Microchipping from your dog's microchip database. This certificate is similar to the registration documents for your car: you are obliged to store it carefully, and if you sell or rehome your dog, the registration has to be transferred to the new owner.
Unfortunately, many owners don't have certificates of registration, even if their dog is chipped. And this is where National Chipping Week comes in. During this week, Dogs Trust is offering a Microchip Certificate Amnesty, allowing dog owners across the country to avail of a free microchipping certificate, as long as their dog is already chipped. If you are unsure of your dog's microchip number, visit your local veterinary practice and ask to have your dog scanned with a microchip reader. You can then apply via Dogstrust.ie for your free microchip registration and certificate.
Remember, if you change address or phone number, you must update the details recorded against your dog's microchip on the database or you will lose this important connection with your dog, and the microchip will no longer be effective.
To find out more about National Chipping Week, visit www.dogstrust.ie