29. Microchips, microchipping and animals without microchips

Updated 11 March 2016

Compulsory microchipping

29.1  Microchipping of dogs has been mandatory in Northern Ireland since 2012. The Dogs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 requires dogs to be microchipped in order to obtain a valid dog licence. There is more information about the requirements at http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/dog-licensing-and-microchipping

29.2  From 6 April 2016, microchipping of dogs in all other parts of the UK becomes mandatory. The relevant legislation is as follows:

a) The Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015;

b) The Microchipping of Dogs (Scotland) Regulations 2016; and

c) The Microchipping of Dogs (Wales) Regulations 2015.

29.3  Dog owners will have a legal obligation to have their dogs microchipped and registered with a microchip database, if they have not done so already. No keeper may transfer a dog to a new keeper until it has been microchipped. 

29.4  Subject to an exemption for certified working dogs (not applicable in Scotland), all dogs older than eight weeks need to be microchipped and registered with their keeper’s details. The keeper is responsible for keeping these details up to date and, whenever there is a change of keeper, the new keeper must ensure their details are recorded with the database. The details to be recorded on the database are listed in the various regulations and these should be consulted carefully as there are subtle differences between each part of the UK. 

29.5  There are ‘health’ exemptions from the general microchipping requirement:

a) In England, the exemption applies for as long as a veterinary surgeon certifies, on a form approved by the Secretary of State, that a dog should not be microchipped for reasons of the animal’s health. The certificate must state the period for which the dog will be unfit to be microchipped.

b) In Scotland, the exemption applies for as long as a veterinary surgeon certifies that a dog should not be microchipped for reasons of the dog’s health. The certificate must state the period for which the dog will be unfit to be microchipped.

c) In Wales, the exemption applies for as long as a veterinary surgeon certifies, on a form approved by the Welsh Ministers, that microchipping would significantly compromise the dog’s health. The certificate must state the period for which the dog will be unfit to be microchipped.

29.6  A keeper who fails to have their dog microchipped may be served with a notice requiring the dog to be microchipped within 21 days. Only an authorised person (as defined by the regulations) can serve such a notice. It is an offence to fail to comply with the notice. In addition, where a keeper has failed to comply with the notice, the regulations give an authorised person powers to, without the consent of the keeper, arrange for the dog to be microchipped and recover the cost of doing so from the keeper. The regulations also permit an authorised person to take possession of a dog without the consent of the keeper for the purpose of checking whether it is microchipped or for the purpose of microchipping it in accordance with the regulations.

 

Who can implant a microchip?

General – all UK jurisdictions

29.7  RCVS Council last approved guidelines on microchipping in February 2000 (RCVS News, March 2000). Following a review of these guidelines by the Veterinary Surgery Working Party, the following guidelines have now been agreed:

  1. implantation by methods other than the subcutaneous route, ear tag or bolus will generally amount to veterinary surgery in view of the potential for pain or stress or for spreading disease, and in some cases the likely handling difficulties;
  2. the repair or closure of the entry site, where necessary, will generally amount to veterinary surgery;
  3. sedation and analgesia are medical treatment and so amount to veterinary surgery. Depending upon the nature of the treatment which is necessary it may be lawful for it to be carried out by a suitably qualified veterinary nurse under veterinary direction or by the owner;
  4. the procedure may amount to veterinary surgery if there is special risk to the health or welfare of the animal.

Horses

29.8  The RCVS considers the microchipping of horses within the nuchal ligament to be an act of veterinary surgery. 

Compulsory microchipping

Dogs (for the purpose of The Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015)

29.9  Section 9(1) of The Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 stipulates that no person may implant a microchip in a dog unless:

  1. they are a veterinary surgeon or a veterinary nurse acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon;
  2. they are a student of veterinary surgery or a student veterinary nurse and in either case acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon;
  3. they have been satisfactorily assessed on a training course approved by the Secretary of State for that purpose; or
  4. before the day on which these Regulations come into force, they received training on implantation which included practical experience of implanting a microchip.

Dogs (for the purpose of The Microchipping of Dogs (Scotland) Regulations 2016)

29.10  Section 3(1) of The Microchipping of Dogs (Scotland) Regulations 2016 stipulates that no individual other than an ‘implanter’ may implant a microchip of any kind in a dog. An ‘implanter’ means any of the following individuals:

  1. a veterinary surgeon, or a veterinary nurse acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon;
  2. a student of veterinary surgery or a student veterinary nurse and in either case acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon;
  3. an individual who has been assessed as meeting a satisfactory standard in the implantation of microchips in dogs on a training course for that purpose approved by the Scottish Ministers; or
  4. an individual who, before the day on which the Regulations come into force, received training on implantation which included practical experience of implanting a microchip.

Dogs (for the purpose of The Microchipping of Dogs (Wales) Regulations 2015)

29.11  Section 9(1) of The Microchipping of Dogs (Wales) Regulations 2015 stipulates that no person may implant a microchip in a dog unless:

  1. they are a veterinary surgeon or a veterinary nurse acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon;
  2. they are a student of veterinary surgery or a student veterinary nurse and in either case acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon;
  3. they have been satisfactorily assessed on a training course approved by the Welsh Ministers for that purpose; or
  4. before the day on which these Regulations come into force, they received training on implantation which included practical experience of implanting a microchip.

29.12  Anyone seeking to rely on the provision at section 9(1)(d) should note that this provision will cease to have effect at the end of the period of two years beginning with the date on which these Regulations come into force.

Tail docking

Dogs (for the purpose of The Docking of Working Dogs' Tails (England) Regulations 2007 and The Docking of Working Dogs' Tails (Wales) Regulations 2007)

29.13  In England and Wales, only veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon can microchip dogs for the purpose of the certification requirements of the tail docking regulations. (For further guidance on tail docking see Chapter 27.)

Dogs (for the purpose of The Welfare of Animals (Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2012)

29.14  In Northern Ireland, a competent person may microchip dogs for the purpose of the certification requirements of the tail docking regulations. A “competent person” means a veterinary surgeon or person who has received instruction on how to implant a microchip and they must work in the same practice as the veterinary surgeon who performed the tail docking. (For further guidance on tail docking see Chapter 27.)

Pet travel

Dogs, cats and ferrets (for the purpose of pet travel)

29.15  In Great Britain, The Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals Order 2011 (as amended by The Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals (Amendment) Order 2014) states that no person may implant a microchip in a dog, cat or ferret for the purposes of pet travel unless:

  1. they are a veterinary surgeon or a veterinary nurse acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon;
  2. they are a student of veterinary surgery or a student veterinary nurse and in either case are acting under the direction of a veterinary surgeon;
  3. they have been satisfactorily assessed on a training course approved by the appropriate authority for that purpose; or
  4. before the 29th December 2014 they received training on implantation which included practical experience of implanting a microchip.

29.16  There is an identical provision in The Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals Order (Northern Ireland) 2011 (as amended by The Non-Commercial Movement of Pet Animals (Amendment) Order (Northern Ireland) 2015.)

Microchip Adverse Event Reporting Scheme

29.17  The various regulations on compulsory microchipping require reports to be made whenever there is an adverse reaction to microchipping, migration of a microchip from the site of implanting or the failure of a microchip.

29.18  Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should report an adverse reaction to microchipping, or the migration or failure of a microchip to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD). Further information about the Microchip Adverse Event Reporting Scheme is available from the VMD’s Pharmacovigilance Unit on 01932 338427 and reports can be submitted online at www.vmd.defra.gov.uk. The VMD closely monitors all reports to identify emerging issues and will feed back any concerns to the chip manufacturer and Microchip Trade Association (MTA).

29.19  In addition to the above, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses in Scotland should also note that the Scottish Regulations require reports to be made within 21 days beginning with the day the adverse reaction, migration or failure is identified.

 

Microchips and pet travel

29.20  Given the potential implications should a microchip fail on entry to the UK (for example, time in quarantine at the cost of the owner) veterinary surgeons should encourage their clients to have their pet’s microchip checked before travel. 

 

Removing microchips

29.21  Because of the importance attached to the accurate identification of animals and the potential for fraud, a microchip must only be removed where this can be clinically justified. This justification should be documented and where required another microchip or alternative method of identification used.

29.22  Removal of a microchip in any other circumstances would be an unnecessary mutilation. While the insertion of a second microchip may be problematic, this in itself does not justify removal of a microchip and an audit trail must be maintained.

 

Scanning for microchips

29.23  Microchips are implanted in companion animals to assist with their return if lost or stolen. A veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse may scan for a microchip where, for example, the animal has been lost or is a stray, it is suspected that the animal has been stolen, or where a client is unaware that the animal has been microchipped.

29.24  There may be other situations when a veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse may scan for a microchip, for example, on first presentation at the practice in order to add details to the clinical and client records; at annual boosters and/or prior to travel in order to check that the microchip is working properly; and, prior to implantation to check for an existing microchip.

29.25  There may be some situations when veterinary surgeons are required to scan for a microchip, for example, prior to a rabies vaccination for the purposes of obtaining a pet passport.

 

Lost or stray small animals without microchips or other forms of identification

29.26  Local authorities have a legal duty to deal with lost or stray dogs. Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses presented with stray dogs may contact their local council to arrange collection. Details for UK local authorities can be found on the gov.uk website at: http://www.gov.uk/report-stray-dog

29.27  In situations where the local authority cannot help, for example, in cases of stray cats, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses are encouraged to take reasonable steps to reunite the animal with the owner. These may include, for example, advertising in the practice and/or on the practice’s website or social media pages that an animal has been found, contacting clients whose animals might fit the description, and contacting other veterinary practices in the local area to inform them of the find and ask if they have had enquiries from someone looking for an animal of that description. This is not an exhaustive list and in some cases it may not be reasonable or appropriate to take all of these steps.

29.28  Veterinary practices are not expected to keep a lost or stray animal indefinitely while attempts are made to locate an owner. If no owner has come forward after a reasonable search there will come a point when it is appropriate to stop the search and consider the animal’s future.  This could include taking steps to re-home the animal, ideally through an animal charity or re-homing centre. In some cases, euthanasia may be reasonable, for example where an animal is not suitable for re-homing.

29.29  Where possible, it may be sensible to adopt the approach taken by local authorities with lost or stray dogs, which is to keep the animal for 7 days before considering re-homing or euthanasia, provided that to do so would not compromise the animal’s welfare. There may be other factors to consider but, ideally, it is helpful to allow a reasonable period of time for enquiries to be made or for an owner to come forward. Ultimately, how long to keep a stray animal will be a matter for the practice.

29.30  Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should ensure that records are made of the attempts made to locate an owner, any treatment provided and the reasons for any decisions made. This can be helpful in the event of disputes, for example, if an owner contacts the practice at a later stage.

29.31  Lost or stray animals presented to a veterinary practice may be in good health, or they may be ill or injured and require first aid and pain relief, which could include euthanasia. Veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should have regard to supporting guidance Chapter 3 (24-hour emergency first aid and pain relief) and they should be familiar with the RSPCA scheme for Initial Emergency Treatment and the Vetline telephone number (0300 123 8022). In the absence of an identified owner, veterinary surgeons and veterinary nurses should be guided by welfare considerations and should be cautious about undertaking significant procedures, particularly those with lasting effects e.g. neutering.

 

Ownership disputes

29.32  An ownership dispute may arise where a client presents an animal with a microchip registered in another person's name.

29.33  Veterinary surgeons should consider the following information if faced with this situation: 

Seek prior agreement to disclose

29.34  Practices may wish to obtain express written agreement from clients as a pre-condition of registering with the practice that if the practice discovers the animal is registered to another person, the personal data of the client and details of the animal and its location will be passed on to the person in whose name the animal is registered and/or the database provider. 

29.35  A written agreement can be obtained through a standalone consent document. However, if the practice wishes to obtain this consent through its standard terms and conditions document, then the relevant terms and conditions stating that the client gives his/her consent must be in bold and sufficiently drawn to the client's attention to be regarded as fair and properly incorporated into the contract between the practice and the client.

29.36  It is a requirement of the Data Protection Act 1998 for data controllers who process personal data to register on the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) Register of Data Controllers (unless they are exempt from registration); and to keep that registration up to date. Practices should ensure that disclosure of the nature described above is covered by the practices' entries on the Register.

Seek consent to disclose

29.37  If there is no prior agreement for disclosure between the practice and the client, the veterinary surgeon should first try and obtain the current keeper’s consent to release their personal information (i.e. name/address) to the registered keeper and/or database provider.

29.38  It is likely that consent will be given freely if the registered keeper is aware that the animal is in the possession of the current keeper e.g. the current keeper is caring for the animal. 

Failure to obtain consent  

29.39  If the current keeper refuses to consent to the release of their personal information to the registered keeper, the veterinary surgeon should contact the registered keeper and/or the database provider and explain that the animal has been brought in by someone else. However, the veterinary surgeon should not release the current keeper’s personal information to the registered keeper (or any other third party including the database provider) at this stage. 

29.40  If the veterinary surgeon makes contact with the registered keeper and the registered keeper is not concerned that the animal has been brought in by another person, then the veterinary surgeon should still not release the current keeper’s personal information to the registered keeper or any other third party as this disclosure would not fall under one of the exemptions in the Data Protection Act 1998. Consent will need to be obtained from the registered keeper to change the details on the microchip. 

29.41  If the veterinary surgeon makes contact with the registered keeper and/or the database provider and from the conversation discovers that (i) the animal has been reported as stolen; (ii) the registered keeper was not aware that the animal is in someone else’s possession; and/or (iii) the registered keeper wants to recover the animal, then the veterinary surgeon may rely on the Data Protection Act and disclose the current keeper’s personal information provided he/she is certain and has evidence to support his/her feeling of certainty that such disclosure is “necessary” for the purposes of any legal or prospective legal proceedings, for the exercise of the legal rights of the registered owner or to enable the registered owner to take legal advice. 

a.   Suspected Theft/Stolen Animal

In the event that the registered owner and/or database provider tells the veterinary surgeon that the animal is stolen, the veterinary surgeon may inform the registered keeper and/or database provider that s/he will alert the police and provide the police with the current keeper’s details. Alternatively, the veterinary surgeon may wish to ask the registered keeper and/or database provider to report the theft. The veterinary surgeon may then disclose appropriate details to the Police or ask for a formal request for disclosure from the Police for this information.

b.   Civil/Ownership dispute

In some cases, the animal may not have been reported stolen, but the registered keeper still wants to recover the animal. This may be the case where there is a civil/domestic dispute. In these circumstances, the veterinary surgeon should only provide the current keeper’s details to the registered keeper if the registered keeper has engaged a lawyer/legal advisor for advice relating to the recovery of the animal. Generally, the safest approach in these circumstances is for veterinary surgeons to disclose the current keeper’s details only to the registered keeper’s lawyer/legal advisor rather than directly to the registered keeper. The registered keeper’s lawyer/legal advisor should be asked to expressly confirm, in writing, the basis on which they are requesting disclosure and the basis on which disclosure is exempt under the Data Protection Act.   

29.42  It is recommended that these steps are set out in a policy document, which is displayed at the practice so that the process is clear to clients.

 

Additional guidance

29.43  Additional guidance on client confidentiality and microchipped animals is available to download in the form of a Flow Chart.