A microchip is about the size of a grain of rice. It holds electronic data that can reliably verify an animal’s identity, whether for sale and competition purposes or during emergencies like natural disasters, when it can be key to returning a lost animal. A horse or alpaca is less likely to “run off” than a dog or cat, but there are many situations where having a way to positively identify a large animal is beneficial.
McGee Equine Clinic is able to scan your animal for a microchip, and place a new microchip if needed. We frequently place microchips in alpacas for movement, showing, breeding, or sales purposes.
Microchips are useful during a prepurchase examination to ensure that the correct animal is examined and purchased. Microchips can be used to help solve disputes on ownership (if records are kept up to date) and to identify horses/alpacas that have fallen victim to abuse or hard times or, heaven forbid, been stolen. The possibilities are endless for a tool that allows people to distinguish between two white alpacas or two flea bitten gray horses, for example, that are otherwise very similar in appearance.
During the 2016 USEF Annual Meeting, a rule was passed requiring USHJA registered horses to be microchipped. As of December 1, 2017, all hunters, jumpers and equitation horses needed to have microchips in order to accumulate points. In 2019, this will extend to all horses competing at USEF competitions; all horses must have their microchip identification number recorded with the USEF in order to compete at USEF sanctioned shows for the 2019 competition year. The Jockey Club has also announced that it will require Thoroughbred foals of 2017 and later to be microchipped.
Inserting a microchip is a relatively simple veterinary procedure that’s innocuous for the horse or alpaca. The most important step is making sure to use an approved 15-digit chip. Some animals require sedation or a local anesthetic block over the insertion site, which is at the middle of the left side of the neck, just below the mane, in the nuchal ligament (or behind the ear in the case of an alpaca). Most horses/alpacas don’t need either of these safeguards and stand quietly through the procedure.
We perform a sterile preparation of the site (cleaned to the point that we could perform surgery on it) and then insert a 14-gauge needle—the size of a small chopstick—under the skin and into the ligament and inject the chip. The whole procedure usually takes less than 15 minutes.
Once the microchip is inserted, anyone with a microchip scanner can scan the site and retrieve the number. The owner is responsible for registering the number with USEF or any other breed registries or organizations the horse is a part of. Microchips are impossible for a layperson to remove, and any attempts by a veterinarian to do so would leave a huge scar. They are inert, and most horses and alpacas do not have reactions to them. Overall, the benefits of microchipping far outweigh any risks.