Q&A: Dog microchipping

Dog in a kennel at Manchester dogs home It is hoped more stray or lost dogs will be reunited with their owners through microchipping

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Every year more than 100,000 dogs are dumped at a cost of £57m to the taxpayer and animal welfare charities, government figures suggest. In an attempt to curb the problem, the government intends to introduce compulsory dog microchipping in England in the next parliament. First used in 1989, the Dogs Trust says microchipping is the "most influential" way that dogs are returned to their owners.

What is the government proposing?

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson has announced that all dogs in England must be microchipped, by law, from 6 April 2016.

In addition, a change to the law governing dangerous dogs is planned, which will close a loophole that currently means owners cannot be prosecuted if their dog attacks an individual on private property.

The government is not providing free microchips to dog owners, but support from charity the Dogs Trust will see some free microchips supplied to veterinary clinics.

The microchipping scheme is considered by ministers to be a successful way of reuniting owners with lost or stolen pets. It should also help relieve the pressure on animal charities, rehoming centres and local authorities, and protect the welfare of dogs by promoting responsible dog ownership.

What are the advantages of dog microchipping?

Microchips contain a unique code which, when scanned, brings up the owner's contact details from a national database. There are currently several databases in operation.

If a dog is found after being lost or stolen, the two parties can be quickly and easily reunited, cutting down the burden on rehoming centres and local authority dog centres to house the animal while the owner is located.

Many animal charities, such as the Dogs Trust, Battersea Dogs and Cats home and the Blue Cross, currently offer to microchip dogs for free or at reduced rates for those on low incomes. Private veterinary practices will charge about £20-£30.

Defra says vets - soon-to-be supplied with free microchips by the Dogs Trust - will have to decide whether to charge for the service or offer the implantation of the chip for free.

Government figures show 58% of dog owners have already had their dogs microchipped voluntarily.

Where will dogs have to go for the procedure, and is it painful?

The procedure of inserting a microchip is quick and largely painless for the animal.

A tiny chip - about the size of a grain of rice - is inserted using a sterile needle under the dog's skin between the shoulder blades.

The microchip is encased in a special bio-compatible glass, the same material used in human pacemakers, which is accepted by the dog's body and fuses with the bodily tissue so it does not move around.

Anaesthetic is not required as the procedure is no more painful than a standard vaccination.

Different brands of microchip and scanner are approved for use in the UK, but all have to conform to the Europe ISO (International Standards Organisation) standard.

How will the scheme be enforced?

Local authorities and the police will be responsible for enforcing the law. Vets will also be asked to remind owners to microchip their dogs.

Owners of dogs found without a chip after April 2016 will have a short amount of time to have the procedure carried out. Those who refuse to microchip their dogs could face a fine of up to £500.

Will there be any changes to the law?

Two laws covering dogs will have to be altered to accommodate the changes.

The Animal Welfare Act will be amended to reflect the change to compulsory microchipping by April 2016. This will not require a parliamentary debate so is likely, says Defra, to go ahead.

Part of the Dangerous Dogs Act will be extended to cover attacks on private property, closing a loophole which has meant that dog owners whose animals have attacked people on private land are immune from prosecution.

Householders will be protected from prosecution if their dog attacks a burglar or trespasser on their land.

The amendment will need to be debated and approved by Parliament.

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