Identifying a better equine ID method

May 26, 2017

Veterinarians and equine experts sound off on ideas for a better way to protect American horses from theft and disease outbreaks. (Hint: It's microchips.)

One of these horses is Mr. Ed. Check the microchips, doc. (Shutterstock)Figuring out whose horse is whose-and the technology that makes that possible-was the subject of discussion for veterinarians, equine industry experts and health agency officials earlier this year in Denver at the "Equine Forum: Advancing ID, Technology and Electronic Health Records."

The two-day forum, hosted by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture and the United States Animal Health Association, delved deep into the issues at hand for the next generation of equine identification and the opinions and needs of those involved.

Microchips are an ideal industry choice for unique, permanent, individual identification of horses.

Today's technologies for horse identification and traceability are "inadequate," and the solutions should be "industry-driven with limited government involvement," according to the forum's white paper. And microchips look best: "Advances in equine microchip technology make microchips an ideal industry choice for unique, permanent, individual identification of horses," according to the white paper.

The forum touted the Jockey Club's recent success in getting 66 percent of last year's 23,000 foals voluntarily microchipped by horse owners.

Equine microchips are too costly!

Why don't all veterinarians, horse owners and equine groups jump at the microchip option for equine identification? This forum's experts called out cost as one problem, but said those who tout this too much may be taking advantage of the current poor state of equine ID.

"Opposition to microchip use may be raised by those engaged in fraudulent business practices," said experts in the forum white paper.

"Industry initiatives, such as chip-a-thon events, can decrease overall cost and will encourage participation."

The white paper addressed horse owners' concerns about health issues associated with implantation: "Science has demonstrated that a properly implanted microchip may result in mild, transient soreness and localized inflammation, which resolve in three days or less."

The bigger issue hindering success with microchips is data sharing: "Success in traceability of horses, during natural disaster, disease outbreaks or incidents of theft, is stymied by multiple data 'silos' of equine microchip numbers, a lack of data sharing and a lack of a centralized microchip database or search mechanism," the white paper states. Experts are calling for a solution similar to the American Animal Hospital Association Universal Microchip Pet Lookup maintained for small animals.

Confidentiality was of particular concern to one veterinarian at the forum.

"We're concerned about how much client-confidential information follows a horse for the rest of its life [with a microchip]."

"The equine veterinary data silo contains a great deal of client-confidential information," said Jim Morehead, DVM, of Equine Medical Associates in Lexington, Kentucky, in the forum white paper. "The veterinary community is concerned about how much information is put in the data silo and what information should follow that horse for the rest of its life."

The white paper also describes new technology, a biothermal microchip, that could be used to rapidly scan implanted horses during a disease outbreak to ensure stress-free temperature monitoring.

You can read and download the entire white paper right here.