Hundreds of thousands of dog owners could be fined for failing to microchip their pets, it was revealed one day before a new law makes it compulsory.
Over one million dogs have not yet been microchipped, more than one in eight dogs out of the UK’s estimated canine population, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.
From Wednesday, dog owners must make sure their pet is fitted with a microchip by the time it is eight weeks old, or face a fine of up to £500.
If local authorities come across a dog without a microchip, owners will have up to 21 days to comply with the law, or be fined.
Defra’s Animal Welfare Minister George Eustice 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.”
When a dog is microchipped a tiny chip about the size of a grain of rice is inserted under the loose skin on the back of its neck, giving it a unique 15-digit code.
If a dog becomes lost or gets stolen and is picked up by a local authority or a shelter, the microchip 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 in place for around a quarter of a century, but Wednesday marks the first time it will be compulsory in England, Wales and 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.
More than a quarter of lost dogs (28%) were reunited with their owners in 2015 thanks to microchipping, the Dogs Trust said.
Countries such as Northern Ireland which already have compulsory microchipping have seen a decrease in the number of stray, lost and abandoned dogs, Defra said.
Around 120,000 stray dogs are kept in council and charity kennels, the Government department estimated.