Is it a legal requirement to microchip cats in the UK?

Currently, 15 April 2021, it is not a legal requirement to microchip your cat in the UK. However, the UK government, after consultations, are planning to introduce mandatory micro-chipping for domestic cats. It is part of a package of changes to cat ownership which have perhaps been accelerated because of an increase in thefts of companion animals during the coronavirus lockdowns.

Is it a legal requirement to microchip cats in the UK?
UK law being changed to improve pet welfare. Image: Pixabay.

There has been a 12.6% increase in cat thefts and a 20% increase in dog thefts over the past year, as I understand it. Notwithstanding this, changes have been in the pipeline for some time. I believe that UK citizens will see this law introduced this summer. Owners will be obliged to microchip their cat by law on pain of a £500 fine. It makes sense. Obligatory micro-chipping of dogs has been in place since 2016 in the UK.

There are multiple advantages to obligatory micro-chipping. It should, for example, improve cat ownership. This is because you can connect a neglected or abused cat with their owner. And, of course, micro-chipping helps to reunite lost cats with their owner.

However, I am told that there are approximately 2.5 million domestic cats in the UK which are not microchip and the remaining approximate 8 million are microchipped. Therefore this is not an extensive issue.

Another benefit which will come about when another law is changed is that when cats are killed by road traffic they can be reunited with their owner. There are plans in the pipeline to make it obligatory for people who drive cars which kill cats on the road to contact the police or the local authorities to inform them of what has happened. This obligation is currently in place for dogs and should be extended to cats.

In addition, the government is planning to ban purchases and sales of cats with cash. The purpose of this is to make these transactions traceable which in turn should help curtail theft. The idea comes from a change in the law regarding the sale and purchase of scrap metal at scrap metal merchants in 2013. There was a huge surge in theft of metal components from railway lines, church roofs and memorial plaques for example. Making it obligatory to sell scrap metal at dealers with payment by means other than cash reduced theft of metals by 50%, I am told.

Animal Welfare Minister Lord Goldsmith is behind the moves referred to above. He said that it is important "that cats and kittens are microchipped as this is often the only hope owners have of seeing their lost cat returned safely to their home. These plans to make microchipping compulsory build on our actions to improve our already world leading animal welfare standards, including taking steps to end live animal exports and ban the practice of keeping primates as pets."

Cats Protection reported that 80% of stray cats handed in to their adoption centres during 2018 were not microchipped. This led to unsuccessful efforts to reunite them with their owners. The organisation has campaigned for many years for compulsory micro-chipping to give cats the same protection as dogs in the UK.

These changes are also in line with a change in attitude of cat owners which has occurred over many years which is that people regard their companion animals as family members. There are very close bonds. Improved animal rights need to be extended to domestic cats.

The theft of cats dramatically impacts the psychological welfare of the cat and their owner. In addition, the monetary value of domestic cats needs to be re-evaluated to incorporate the emotional connection between cat and human. The intrinsic value of domestic cats is not the same as the intrinsic value of an inanimate object but currently that is the way courts apply the law.

Postscript: in Russia they have just changed the law. Until recently the authorities were able to seize companion animals to force individuals to pay their debts. This is been changed and it is no longer allowed.

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