Hundreds of thousands of dog owners risk being fined for failing to microchip their pets, as a new law comes into force making it compulsory.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said more than one in eight dogs in the UK – or more than 1m – had not yet been microchipped.
From Wednesday dog owners must make sure their pet has a microchip by the time it is eight weeks old. If local authorities discover a dog without a microchip, owners will have to fit one within 21 days or they will be fined up to £500.
George Eustice, the animal welfare minister, said: “We are a nation of dog lovers and we want to make sure they stay safe. Microchipping our dogs will not only reunite people with their lost or stolen pets but also help to tackle the growing problem of strays roaming the streets and relieve the burden placed on animal charities and local authorities.
“Microchipping is vital for good dog welfare and a simple solution for responsible pet owners to provide peace of mind and ensure your much-loved dog can be traced.”
The microchips, about the size of a grain of rice, are inserted under the loose skin on the back of a dog’s neck, giving it a unique 15-digit code. If the dog becomes lost or gets stolen and is picked up by a local authority or shelter, the chip can be scanned and matched to contact details stored on a database.
Charities such as the Dogs Trust, some local councils and some vets will microchip dogs for free. Owners must make sure the microchip is updated if their contact details change, and people thinking of getting a dog or puppy should ask for proof a microchip has been fitted before buying a new pet.
Microchipping technology has been available for around 25 years but has not previously been compulsory in England, Wales or Scotland. The new law will not replace current requirements for dogs to wear a collar and tag with their owner’s name and address when in a public place, Defra said.
It said countries such as Northern Ireland that already had compulsory microchipping had seen a decrease in the number of stray, lost and abandoned dogs. Defra estimates that around 120,000 stray dogs are kept in council and charity kennels. The Dogs Trust charity said more than a quarter (28%) of lost dogs in 2015 were reunited with their owners thanks to microchipping.
Simon Blackburn, chair of the Local Government Association (LGA)‘s safer and stronger communities board, said the new law would free up public money spent looking after strays. “Councils will of course take a proportionate approach to enforcing the new law, but owners can help by ensuring they get their dogs chipped as soon as possible.
“The new microchipping law will improve animal welfare by helping councils return even more stray dogs to their owners while reducing the huge cost to the public purse and the number of owners paying mounting fees for unplanned stays in kennels.”