Permanent identification of your rabbit
Various techniques can be used to identify your rabbit. Microchips are a safe and permanent method of identification and have many advantages over more traditional techniques such as the placement of metal leg rings or ear-marking with tattoos. Microchips provide a quick and efficient way to identify a lost rabbit and reunite it with its owner. All veterinary practices and rescue centres should scan a stray rabbit for a microchip when they are brought in to try and identify the owner.
Why do we need to identify rabbits?
If a rabbit escapes from a home or garden and subsequently finds itself in a shelter or veterinary clinic, unless it can be accurately identified, it may be very difficult or impossible to trace its owners. Rescue shelters only have limited space and unless an owner is located quickly the rabbit may be given a new home, or in some circumstances where a suitable home cannot be found, it may be put to sleep.
The information stored on a microchip allows the owner to be traced via a central database where records of contact details are stored. This saves time and distress for owners of lost rabbits, cuts down on the number of stray animals in shelters and therefore, saves money for the organisations that look after them.
Valuable show/breeding rabbits may be microchipped in an attempt to prevent or resolve future ownership disputes. Owners of very large numbers of rabbits and in particular large-scale breeders may find microchipping useful to identify individual animals. This helps ensure that accurate records of individual health and reproductive performance can be kept.
What is a microchip?
A microchip is a small device about the size of a grain of rice that contains a unique 15-digit code or identification number. Slim microchips also exist which are slightly smaller than standard microchips. It is made of inert material which means it has no power source and won't be rejected by your rabbit's body. It is designed to work effectively for the lifetime of your pet.
How is a microchip inserted?
Microchips are inserted under the skin between your rabbit's shoulder blades with a wide-bore sterile needle. Once implanted, the chip should remain in essentially the same place throughout your rabbit's life, although occasionally they can migrate slightly, so when scanning an animal, it is important to scan the entire animal to check for a chip.
After a microchip has been inserted and the number checked with a scanner, your contact details are submitted on a registration form to a central database and recorded along with the unique microchip number. It is also helpful to record the microchip number on your rabbit's vaccination card and veterinary medical records.
How is a microchip number retrieved?
To retrieve your rabbit's identification number, a scanner is run over its body. The scanner sends out a magnetic signal which picks up the code imprinted on the chip. This code is displayed on the scanners screen. Scanning equipment is used by veterinary clinics and rescue shelters to confirm the identity of animals in their care.
How is an owner of a microchipped rabbit located?
If a lost rabbit is scanned and a microchip located, the number is noted, and the central database contacted for the owner's details. The owner is contacted and reunited with their pet. The database records are subject to GDPR legislation so your information is secure and cannot be forwarded to other organisations.
At present only a small percentage of pet rabbits are microchipped, in comparison to dogs (where it is a legal requirement), cats and horses, but it is expected that this percentage will increase in the future. If more rabbits are microchipped, the number of lost animals reunited with their owners will subsequently increase.
If my contact details change, does my rabbit need a new microchip?
No. If your contact details change, you must contact the central database directly and they will alter your pets record accordingly. If your details are not kept up to date you cannot be contacted if your rabbit goes missing and is found. It is therefore imperative that you keep them up to date.
Are microchips fool proof?
As the code is permanently embedded on the chip, it cannot be tampered with. Importantly, the 15-digit code gives more than enough capacity for every pet animal in the world to be given their own unique number.
Following some problems in the early years of microchip implantation, there is now an international agreement on microchip standards so that all types/makes of microchip can be universally read by scanners produced by different manufacturers. It is recommended that your rabbit is microchipped with an ISO standard microchip which meets specifications 11784 and 11785. Most veterinary practices and shelters currently use these types of chips.
On rare occasions microchips may fail and the identification number will be unreadable by a scanner. Whilst this is not harmful to your pet, it will mean identification will not be possible. In this unlikely event, your vet can insert a new one. The old chip will be left in and both microchips will be registered to your rabbit, just in case the old one starts to work again in the future.
Are there alternatives to microchips?
Although collars and tags are frequently used on dogs and cats, they are not suitable for rabbits. There are a number of other methods that can be used for identification purposes.
Tattoos can be placed on the inside of the ear. These have a number of disadvantages: the ink used can fade over time and become difficult to read, long codes are impractical, and the marking can be altered by further tattooing.
Metal leg rings have traditionally been used on show rabbits. The primary disadvantage of rings is that they can cause wounds to the leg if the rabbit outgrows the ring, if the ring becomes caught on fencing or other materials in the run or hutch or if the leg becomes swollen through injury or disease. These are not recommended for pet rabbits and if you purchase a rabbit who was a show rabbit with a ring on their leg, please speak to your vet about getting it removed.
Are there any risks involved?
The microchip can be inserted without an anaesthetic. Any pain is minor and short-lived and although usually considered unnecessary, a local painkiller can be given if required. Alternatively, you can get your rabbit microchipped at the time they are neutered and therefore under a general anaesthetic. Once inserted, the microchip will remain in the same place for the rest of your rabbit's life. The chip is sterile and made of non-reactive materials. There is a very small risk of introducing infection when the microchip is implanted. In the rare event of infection, this can be easily treated. Uncommonly, the microchip may move under the skin away from the original site of implantation but provided it stays intact, it can be read anywhere on the rabbit's body. Given that the risk of complications is extremely low, microchips are considered a safe and effective method of identification for pet rabbits.