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Compulsory Microchipping for Dogs – Success or Hype?

01 August 2016, at 12:00am

In December 2015, The Telegraph reported a PDSA survey that estimated 1.5 million dogs in the UK (1 in 6) were not microchipped, with only a few months to go before compulsory microchipping for dogs became law. Other estimates ranged from 1.6 million (Defra) to as many as 1.9 million.

As late as February 2016, Pet Gazette reported that 68 per cent of owners were not aware of the new law, in an article referring to Pets At Home research. The March 2016 edition of Your Dog told us that over 50 per cent of strays cannot be returned because their owner cannot be identified, and 71 per cent of vets said the most common reason they could not reunite a dog with its owner was that there was nothing to identify the dog.

All of these insights indicated a great opportunity for veterinary practices and other microchip implanters. If all the unchipped dogs were implanted over a 12 month period, every veterinary practice in the UK could easily double its microchip business.

So, what happened? 

From October 2015, it was clear that there was significantly increased activity in microchipping of dogs in readiness for the new law (see Fig. 1 below), which culminated unsurprisingly in a massive spike in registrations in March and April 2016.

We should point out that the data shown is for Pet-ID dog registrations, not the whole market, and does not necessarily reflect the experience of other providers as they may not operate in all of the same channels as Pet-ID.

That spike exceeded the expectations of many suppliers in the microchip sector, as anecdotal evidence suggests that several suppliers exhausted their available stock. 

With only three months elapsed since April’s activity, it is too early to tell what the new “normal” is for dog microchip registrations, or over what period the current elevated levels of activity will decline. However, based on the current dog population and breeding rates, we expect it to be around 15 per cent higher than previous years just for microchipping all new puppies.

Apart from the clear increase in the microchipping of dogs, analysis of registration data for April highlights some interesting points.

In April 2015, 39 per cent of dogs implanted had dates of birth in 2015, but in April 2016, only 14 per cent of dogs implanted had dates of birth in 2016 (see Fig. 2 above). However, those smaller percentages still represented significantly increased numbers of registrations at those ages (see Fig. 3 below) and show the impact of compulsory microchipping on the historic age distribution of dogs being chipped.

Does that mean all dogs are microchipped now?

Not by a long way. Yes, there was a great effort by all implanters to raise awareness and get as many dogs implanted as possible through microchipping campaigns.

Microchipping activity in eary 2016 was certainly at an all-time high. Microchip suppliers couldn’t get orders out of the door quickly enough. We saw stories in the media about pet owners queueing down the street on the Isle of Lewis to ensure their dogs complied with the new law.

However, we believe there are still a million unchipped dogs out there, and if future microchipping activity is somewhere between the most recent level and our estimate of the new normal, it could take anywhere between 3 and 10 years before “all” dogs are microchipped.

Compulsory microchipping appears to be old news. There is little or no media coverage now. The widespread microchipping campaigns we saw earlier in the year have all but disappeared.

Our veterinary customers are still telling pet owners that microchipping is compulsory, but we’ve heard that pet owners are refusing to have their dogs microchipped. They ask “Who’s going to catch me?”

What does the future look like?

In a nutshell, there is still a tremendous opportunity for implanters, but the receptiveness of pet owners will be a key factor.