Cat owners must microchip their pets or face a £500 fine, under new government rules unveiled on Saturday.
Ministers have approved proposals, first set out in the 2019 Conservative Party manifesto, to require cats to be chipped before they reach 20 weeks.
The move will cover up to 2.8 million unchipped cats in the UK, about a quarter of the nation's 10.8 million cats. This is to ensure they can easily be reunited with their owners if they are lost, or stolen and resold .
Cats Protection, the UK's largest feline welfare charity, reported that 80 per cent of stray cats arriving at its centres are not microchipped. The problem may have become more acute as cat ownership has increased during the pandemic, soaring by 600,000 last year.
Pet theft has also surged during the Covid crisis, with the number of cats being stolen rising by 12.3 per cent in the year to this April, and up three-fold in the past five years as the value of the most expensive breeds rose to £2,000.
Bengal, Siamese, British shorthair and Maine Coon are the most commonly stolen cats in Britain. They are targeted for breeding or resale, with pedigree kittens selling for £500 each.
Under the Government's plans, which were backed by 99 per cent of respondents to a Whitehall consultation, owners must chip their cats and ensure their contact details are stored and kept up-to-date in a pet microchipping database.
The procedure is painless and involves inserting a tiny chip with a unique serial number under the animal's skin. A scanner is able to read the number and check it against the database to identify the owner.
Ministers are yet to unveil the precise date for introducing the new rules, which aim to offer owners peace of mind. The Government is currently carrying out a review of the existing regulations on dog microchipping, which is already mandatory, to see if improvements can be made.
The new rules on cats will be implemented alongside any update to the rules on dogs, once this review has finished.
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, the animal welfare minister, said on Friday night: "Cats are much-loved parts of our families and making sure that they're microchipped is the best possible way of making sure that you are reunited with them if they are ever lost or stolen."
He said that the new rules would help protect "millions of cats" and dovetailed with a range of other protections that the Government is introducing under its action plan for animal welfare.
This includes tackling puppy smuggling in new legislation and introducing a new pet abduction offence to cut down on theft. The moves were advanced after dog theft rose by a fifth in a year.
Jacqui Cuff, the head of advocacy at Cats Protection, said that the charity welcomed the rules on cat microchipping .
"Every day, we see how important microchipping is for cats and for the people who love them – whether it's reuniting a lost cat with their owner, identifying an injured cat, or helping to ensure an owner can be informed in the sad event that their cat has been hit and killed by a car," she said.
Ms Cuff added: "Microchipping is by far the most effective and quickest way of identifying lost cats and can help ease the pressure on rescue charities like Cats Protection. Without a microchip, a lost cat will most likely end up being rehomed to a new home as there is often no trace of their original owner."
Ministers have also been asked to consider a cash ban on the purchase of pets to block black market sales and create mandatory paper trails that will aid investigators.
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