Cat owners in England will be required to have their pets microchipped from June next year in an effort to deter theft and help reunite strays with their owners.
The UK's Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) said about 2.3 million of the 9 million cats in England were unchipped — about 25 per cent.
Microchipping is a process where a small device, usually no larger than a grain of rice, is implanted under a pet's skin. This chip contains a distinct serial number that the pet owner must register in a database.
In the event of a pet going missing, a scanner can read the microchip, revealing the registered owner's information on the database and making it easier to reunite the pet with its owner quickly.
Under the new legislation, owners will be given until June 10 next year to have their cats chipped or could be fined up to £500 ($604).
Cats that have little or no human interaction or dependency, such as farm, feral or community cats, will not be required to comply.
The legislation will make it mandatory for owners to have their cats implanted with chips before they reach 20 weeks of age, with their contact information listed in a database.
The law is intended to provide comfort to families by increasing the likelihood that lost or stray pets can be reunited with their owners, according to Environment Secretary Therese Coffey.
She said: “Cats and kittens are treasured members of the family and it can be devastating for owners when they are lost or stolen.”
Owners who fail to chip their cats will have 21 days to comply, or they may face a fine.
The legislation follows the compulsory microchipping of dogs, which took effect in April 2016.
Chief veterinary officer Christine Middlemiss said: “Microchipping is by far the most effective and quickest way of identifying lost pets.
“As we've seen with dog microchipping, those who are microchipped are more than twice as likely to be reunited with their owner.”
Cats Protection, the rescue and welfare charity, welcomed the move.
It has been advocating for all owned cats to be microchipped since the measure was first introduced for dogs.
Madison Rogers, of Cats Protection, said: “The charity regularly reunites owners with their much-loved cats and in most cases this is only possible thanks to microchips.
“No matter how far from home they are found, or how long they have been missing, if it has a microchip, there is a good chance that a lost cat will be swiftly returned home.”