Time to Chip

The USTA partners with Merck Animal Health for microchipping program

by Kim French

On April 30, the USTA, Merck Animal Health (known as MSD Animal Health outside the United States and Canada), and HomeAgain announced a partnership through which Merck would become the Standardbred breed organization’s sole microchip provider. The USTA is the first horse registry to include temperature scanning in their microchip identification program.

“Our mission is to provide value to our membership. This includes prioritizing the well-being of horses and the safety of our ID technicians,” said TC Lane, director of USTA registry and member services. “Temperature scanning is state-of-the-art technology. Merck Animal Health and HomeAgain share the USTA’s commitment to animal well-being and we are proud to work with them on this project.”

On March 11, the USTA Registration Committee approved a proposal requiring all Standardbred foals of 2019 to be implanted with microchips for identification purposes. For foals of 2018, microchipping is optional.

In 2021, however, all horses that compete in the U.S. at USTA member tracks must be identified with microchips. Horses that were previously freeze branded by the USTA will be microchipped at a pre-determined rate.

Freeze branding as a second form of horse identification remains available.

According to a 2013 publication by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “Implantable microchips are cylindrical devices that are implanted in the subcutaneous tissues using a hypodermic needle. These devices contain four components: a capacitor, antenna, connecting wire and a covering. The devices are battery-free and sealed in biocompatible glass covered by a sheath to prevent migration. Microchips are activated by a low-power radiofrequency signal emitted by scanners; electromagnetic induction generates electricity in the antenna and transmits the information stored in the microchip.

“When activated by the scanner, the microchip transmits a unique, preprogrammed identification number. Some microchips used in animal research also collect and transmit body temperature data. Implantation of a microchip results in transient inflammation at the site of implantation, followed by long-term formation of a fibrous capsule around the microchip. In horses, a local inflammatory response and increased sensitivity to pressure at the insertion site resolved within three days and a systemic inflammatory response was not invoked.”

This data was supported by the 2013 work of Mauela Wulf from the Graf Lehndorff Institute of Equine Science in Neustadt, Germany. Wulf and her colleagues determined foals, which are normally three to six months old when microchipped, suffer no serious physical or mental setbacks from the process.

“Provided breeders and veterinarians are properly educated in how to implant a chip and in how to read it, and knowing that sometimes a larger scanner is necessary, microchipping should certainly be considered a safe and reliable identification method for horses,” she said.

Following two separate field trials to assess various products and chip insertion points, the USTA board of directors unanimously selected HomeAgain TempScan as its microchip of choice. The technology will allow for a quicker, safer, and more accurate identification process versus freeze branding. Additionally, the scanning feature will instantly measure equine body temperature. This significant health-related information can be a sentinel for contagious and potentially fatal equine diseases such as Equine Herpes Virus 1 and Equine Herpes Virus Myeloencephalopathy (EHM).

“At Merck Animal Health and HomeAgain, we’re committed to providing innovative solutions to meet each animals’ unique needs,” said Gary Macphee, associate vice president, U.S. Companion Animal and Equine Business Unit, Merck Animal Health. “We’re proud to partner with the USTA, and together utilize this advanced technology to protect the identity and health of each horse in the registry.”

The USTA will purchase microchips directly from Merck/HomeAgain, store them, and ship them directly to the ID technicians, who will implant the chips in the nuchal ligament, which is midway on a horse’s neck, and is the accepted international standard for microchip implantation.

“Walnut Hall Ltd., specifically the efforts of Alan Leavitt, should be recognized and commended for their support and involvement with a microchipping program for Standardbreds,” Lane said. “Their team has been integral to the process from the very beginning of the project.

“Also, after three decades of leadership under the expertise of Dr. Ken Walker, the Registration Committee is extremely pleased to commence this program with Dr. John Mossbarger, our newly elected chairman, at the helm. Dr. Mossbarger has been actively involved with the microchipping process as well, and we are excited to follow his lead on his first project in his new capacity, in addition to future programs he will be responsible for.”

One of the primary elements in the USTA’s decision to partner with Merck/HomeAgain was the Bio-Bond technology patented by Destron Fearing, a partner of HomeAgain. Through this technology, the microchips are encased in an insert composed of bio-compatible material, thus allowing a horse’s tissue to permanently affix itself to the preferred location. This is essential to the health of the horse and for expedient reading.

Although a horseman can purchase any universal scanner for identifying microchips, the USTA-through its partnership with Merck/HomeAgain-will offer the HomeAgain TempScan scanners at a special discounted rate to all current USTA members. The scanners will be available in both a standard version and a smartphone-friendly Bluetooth version for data collection and assessment. Also, each USTA member racetrack will receive two complimentary HomeAgain TempScan scanners.

“The chips are ‘passive,’ which means that when scanned, they give us the identification number and the horse’s temperature,” Lane said. “However, that number could then be tied to software that could display pertinent medical records, vaccination records, or even eligibility data down the road.”

The USTA will microchip around 9,000 foals annually, as well as another 25,000 older racehorses, stallions, and broodmares.




Let’s Go Micro!

Following is a list of the benefits of bio-thermal microchips:

Offer a faster, more efficient form of identification

Make preventative care more straightforward

Safeguard the identity and health of the animal

Serve as a tool for monitoring temperature during and after surgery or procedure

Identify sub-clinical signs of possible infectious diseases

Measure temperature in a matter of moments

Make an excellent choice for young and pregnant animals

Available-through a partnership between Merck and the USTA-as part of a free, lifetime subscription rescue service in the event of a lost animal or animals

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