Kitty vs. International RFID Standardisation

So, I’ve just bought myself an RFID implant reader.

However, don’t jump to conclusions — it’s not that I’m hoping that possession will put me on the right side of the New World Order 21st-century pervasive-RFID-tracking security infrastructure or anything — it’s for my cat. Here’s why…

Many years ago, back in Ireland, we had an RFID chip implanted in our cat, as you do. Then 3 years ago, we entered the US, bringing the cat with us, and started looking into what we’d have to do to bring him back again.

Ireland and the UK are rabies-free, and have massive paranoia about pets that may harbour it; as a result, pets imported into those countries generally have to stay in a quarantine facility for 6 months. Obviously 6 months sans kitty is something that we want to avoid, and thankfully a recent innovation, the Pet Travel Scheme allows this. It allows pets to be imported into the UK from the USA, once they pass a few bureaucratic conditions, and from there they can travel easily to Ireland legally. (BTW Matt, this still applies; we checked!)

One key condition is that the pet be first microchipped with an RFID chip, then tested for rabies, with those results annotated with the chip ID number. Once the animal arrives in the UK on the way back, the customs officials there verify his RFID implant chip’s ID number against the number on the test result documentation, and (assuming they match and all is in order) he skips the 6 month sentence.

So far, it seems pretty simple; the cat’s already chipped, we just have to go to the vet, get him titred, and all should proceed simply enough from there. Right? Wrong.

We spent a while going to various vets and animal shelters; unfortunately, almost everyone who works in a vet’s office in California seem to be incompetent grandmothers who just work there because they like giving doggies a bath, couldn’t care less about funny foreign European microchips, and will pretty much say anything to shut you up. Tiring stuff, and unproductive; eventually, after many fruitless attempts to read the chip, I gave up on that angle and just researched online.

Despite what all the grannies claimed, as this page describes, the US doesn’t actually use the ISO 11784/11785 standard for pet RFID chips. Instead it uses two alternative standards, one called FECAVA, and another FECAVA-based standard called AVID-Encrypted. They are, of course, entirely incompatible with ISO 11784/11785, although, to spread confusion, the FECAVA standard appears to be colloquially referred to in parts of the US vet industry, as “European” or even “ISO standard”. I think it was originally developed in Europe, and may have been partially ISO-11784-compliant to a degree, but the readers have proven entirely incompatible with the chip we had, which is referred to as “ISO” in the UK and Ireland at least. They don’t even use the same frequencies; FECAVA/AVID are on 125 KHz, while ISO FDX-B is on 134.2 KHz.

(BTW, a useful point for others: you can also tell the difference at the data level; FECAVA/AVID use 10-digit ID numbers, while ISO numbers are 15-digit. Also, “FDX-B” seems to accurately describe the current Euro-compatible ISO-standard chip system.)

Now, a few years back, it appears that one company attempted to introduce ISO-FDX-B-format readers and chips to the FECAVA-dominated marketplace, in the form of the Banfield ‘Crystal Tag’ chip and reader system.

That attempt foundered last year, thanks to what looks a lot like some MS-style dirty tricks — patent infringement lawsuits and some ‘your-doggy-is-in-danger’ FUD:

what we have here is a different, foreign chip that’s being brought in and it’s caused a lot of confusion with pet owners, with shelters, and veterinarians.

(Note ‘foreign’ — a little petty nationalism goes a long way.) The results can be seen in this press story on the product’s withdrawal:

Although ISO FDX-B microchips are being used in some European countries and parts of Australia, acceptance of ISO FDX-B microchips is not universal and the standard on which they are based continues to generate controversy, in part due to concerns about ID code duplication.

FUD-bomb successful!

Anyway, this left us in a bad situation; our cat’s chip was unreadable in the US, and possibly even illegal given the patent litigation ;) . We had two choices: either we got the cat re-chipped with a US chip, paying for that, or we could find our own ISO-compatible reader.

We sprung for the latter; although the re-chipping and re-registration would probably cost less than the $220 the reader would cost, we’d need to buy a US reader in addition, since the readers at London Heathrow airport are ISO readers, not FECAVA/AVID-compatible. On top of that, this way gives me a little more peace of mind about compatibility issues when we eventually get the cat to Heathrow; we now know that the cat’s chip will definitely be readable there, instead of taking a risk on the obviously-quite-confusing nest of snakes that is international RFID standardisation.

Anyway, having decided to buy a reader, that wasn’t the last hurdle. Apparently due to the patent infringement lawsuit noted above, no ISO/FDX-B-compatible readers were on sale in the US! A little research found an online vendor overseas, and with a few phone calls, we bought a reader of our very own.

This arrived this morning; with a little struggling from the implantee, we tried it out, and verified that his ID number was readable. Success!

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  1. Posted September 27, 2005 at 14:48 | Permalink

    That’s interesting – I wonder if I could get an RFID chip implanted into myself, and attach a reader to my front door with a mechanism for automatically unlocking the door – thus curing me of my house-key-amnesia.

  2. Posted September 27, 2005 at 17:18 | Permalink

    ha! why not, I suppose ;)

  3. nishad
    Posted September 27, 2005 at 19:39 | Permalink

    Now you’re sure that at Heathrow, they’re not going to turn around and say, “That cat was in the US, where they can’t read this chip, so we don’t trust your documentation, what with you buying some random reader yourself”? It sounds insane, but so is the rest of it…you might need to make sure that the standard for documentation does not require a “Chip read by official US chip reader” stamp…:-/

  4. Posted September 29, 2005 at 04:02 | Permalink

    nishad: the manufacturer of the reader is british, so I think that’ll count for more points than anything else ;)

  5. Matt Sergeant
    Posted September 29, 2005 at 15:41 | Permalink

    Good news that they haven’t removed the scheme. It sounds like a huge amount of hassle. At Heathrow they will have both readers so I don’t think that’ll be an issue. As long as you can get the vet to fill in all the right forms.

    You think this is a nightmare – now think of us doing it with 6 pets ;-)

  6. Posted September 30, 2005 at 22:10 | Permalink


    Any suggestions for ISO implantation in the US?

    My pets and I are moving to the UK, and we can’t find a vet who uses the ISO compliant chip.

    Any help is appreciated!


  7. Posted September 30, 2005 at 22:50 | Permalink

    Rick —

    as far as I can tell, you will not be able to find an ISO-compliant chip (or at least a 15-digit ISO chip) inside the US, due to the patent issues.

    However, Matt says that they have both ISO and AVID readers at Heathrow, and I’ve heard that (anecdotally) elsewhere, too. I would suggest tracking down an authoritative source — maybe someone at Heathrow? — and verify if they have an AVID reader; if they do, then implanting an AVID chip would be the way to go IMO.

    BTW according to this mefi thread, the Japanese embassy is suggesting that AVID chips be implanted, and bring your own chip reader. But that’s Japan, not the UK ;)

  8. Conor Delaney
    Posted October 20, 2005 at 15:07 | Permalink

    We are back in Ireland after being in California for over a year, however our dog (boo hoo!)is still there! Why? Well it turns out that when you get your dog chipped you then have to get it vacinated against rabies, you then have to send a sample of your dogs blood away to be tested at an EU approved laboratory (Fort Wort), the dog has to stay in the USA for a minimum of six months after a successful blood test…….

    The chip which the vet in San Francisco used was a standard one, I went to the manufacturers web site and they claim that the EU standard readers work with their chips……

    However my dog is still in sunny California, while I am in freezing and wet Galway

    ps: apparently if you are flying from the US to Ireland direct you have to fly into Dublin airport as there is no one at Shannon to check that you pet isn’t a rabid monster…

    Anyone managed to do all this yet.

  9. Posted October 21, 2005 at 02:27 | Permalink

    Conor — that’s a nightmare!

    Unfortunately yep, that’s the story I’ve heard so far, more or less — it’s a twisty turny maze of bureaucratic nonsense.

    Mind you, I hadn’t heard that the pet could arrive directly in Dublin; I was under the impression that he has to come via London, get checked out there, and once in London, it’s trivial to import him to Dublin from there.

    By the way — I think you can at least import the dog to Ireland, and then have him kept in a quarantine kennel a little nearer to you for the necessary 6 months. Not that that’s much consolation I suspect…

  10. elias gramm
    Posted October 25, 2005 at 19:27 | Permalink

    We want to move our cat to Greece and we are messed up. We do not know a chip which is compatible with ISO 11784/5. Can you help us?!?!?!?

    thank you

  11. Posted November 7, 2005 at 18:55 | Permalink

    (replied to elias via private mail)

  12. Tim Williams
    Posted February 13, 2007 at 13:09 | Permalink

    Thanks for your very helpful blog. My wife and I have 7 cats of varying ages from kittens to 16. They have all been microchipped when young. However the older cats chips cannot be read by our current vet. We were told this was due to a change in standards. We live in the UK, but I think the older cats may have the non-ISO type chips. We would be most interested to know where you purchased your reader from as we are thinking of emigrating and would like to avoid re-chipping our cats. Please could you let us know the make and model of the reader you bought? Many thanks, Tim.

  13. Posted April 18, 2007 at 01:35 | Permalink

    Peddymark has readers that will read all the chips talked about in your artical and will sell anyone reading this one for £60 when they quote VTAYLOR_ISO The european standard is flawed and the US are right when they say they are worried about duplication of tag ID’s It is possible to re-code ISO read/write versions of this tag to the same number that is already in a dog or cat. NO iso reader anywhere not even Heathrow can tell that it is really a fake. Still it will bring you dog or cat home if you get it lost…….so a happy ending

  14. ashley
    Posted October 22, 2007 at 09:03 | Permalink

    wow, this is more information than i’ve found anywhere! excellent work.

    my mom’s bringing my cat over to live with me in paris and we’ve had a very hard time sorting out fact from fiction. but as you point out, the chip wars have made everything hazy.

    what we don’t know is how to get an iso chip (the real, 15-digit one) in the states? we’re desperate to get one asap. it sounds from your blog as though we’ll have to order from overseas. sigh.

    also, it seems that we need a rabies shot at least 30 days before the trip. and yet, if it’s an animal’s first shot it’s required that it be within 21 days. what is the logic? does anybody have advice about rabies?

    thanks again so much for spreading information—what craziness this all is!

  15. Posted October 22, 2007 at 12:32 | Permalink

    hi Ashley —

    my sympathies! I’m afraid I don’t know if it’s possible to get an ISO chip in the US at this stage.

    You could try calling a Canadian company called Eidap — . They sell the ISO chips and equipment in Canada. Hopefully they may be able to give some advice…

    Regarding the rabies shot — I’m not sure what the story is there. Sorry, I can’t help on that count :(