A citizen's initiative calling for all cats in Finland to be fitted with identification microchips has garnered more than the required 50,000 signatures and will be submitted to Parliament for consideration.
Currently only a small fraction of cats in Finland are registered or outfitted with ID chips, with roughly 5,000 registrations per year. However, there are an estimated 700,000 cats across the country.
The issue is not new, as Finland's Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has been considering and preparing for the widespread chipping of cats at the same time as it has prepared for the chipping of dogs, which is set to become mandatory starting in 2023.
If the mandatory chipping and registering of cats does become obligatory, it will have at least three main consequences:
1. Cat owners will need to arrange for their pets to receive the chip
If the citizen's initiative does become law, new kitten owners will be required to fit the animals with chips, but it is likely that adult cats will also need to be registered and chipped. The regulations for dogs requires owners to ensure their hounds be chipped within one year after the law goes into force.
In order for a cat to receive an identification chip, the pet must be taken to a veterinarian or it can be put in place by an authorised person. The tiny chip is inserted with a device resembling a large vaccine needle into subcutaneous tissue between the animal's shoulder blades
The price of chipping varies, with costs at a veterinarian likely to run into tens of euros, but animal welfare associations are already running chipping campaigns where the chip and registration can be obtained for free. The chip itself costs between 5 and 15 euros.
Each identification chip will contain a series of numbers that are meaningless unless the chip is registered with one of three official bodies; Suomen Kissaliiton Ry (translated as the Finnish Cat Association), the Turvasiru (Security Chip) online service, or the Siruhaku (Chip search) service.
2. Buying and selling of kittens would change
Riikka Turpeinen, vice-president of the Finnish Cat Association, told Yle that the mandatory chipping of cats would gradually make the kitten trade more responsible than it currently is.
"After all, there is no culture with dogs, that puppies are born somewhere and they are then collected for free. But with cats, there is such a culture," Turpeinen said.
If the chipping of cats was to become mandatory, prospective kitten buyers would want to ensure that the kittens are chipped, and it would be further hoped that the identification process could become a routine requirement similar to deworming, which rids cats of parasites like tapeworm, roundworm and flukes.
Mandatory chipping could also increase the responsibility of those selling kittens, as their information would be available via the chip number in the register.
"Yes, it might help to slow down people who work in unethical ways. The microchip is an excellent weapon against kitten farming," Turpeinen said.
3. The work of animal shelters could become easier
If the majority of cats in Finland had an identification chip, the tasks carried out by animal shelters could become significantly easier, to the extent that they could be completely empty. Even if cats continued to escape, their owners would be much easier to locate.
Animal shelters have a chip reader that allows employees to see the cat's identification number. The animal shelter does not have access to the cat owner's name from the register based on the number. However, the system can send a text message to the pet owners informing them of the cat's whereabouts.
"The chip alone does nothing. There is a strange misconception that the chip itself has the name and number of the owner. That is not the case," according to Marja Mäenpää of the Mikkeli Animal Welfare Association.
The Finnish Food Safety Authority has criticised the mandatory chipping and registration of dogs, as the authority does not believe that people will update their information in the register. The same problem could apply to cats — but on a larger scale — due to the large number of unregistered felines in the country.