ABU DHABI // Abu Dhabi officials are drawing up plans for all pets to be "chipped", having electronic tags inserted under the skin to allow veterinarians to instantly identify owners and see the animal's medical history.
Officials from the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) and the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) met last week to discuss the plans, which are intended to help hamper the illegal trade in animals and prevent the spread of diseases.
The emirate's scheme is similar to those already in operation elsewhere.
In the United States, for example, the microchip, the size of a grain of rice, is implanted under the pet's skin near the neck. It is based on radio frequency identification technology, using radio waves to communicate data between a reader and the pet's chip.
"The aim is to reduce animal theft, to prevent diseases from spreading and to monitor the whereabouts and the safety of pets in Abu Dhabi," said Ahmed Rashed Saif Al Ameri, manager of the interaction and dispute management division of the DMA.
Pets included in the project include cats, dogs, monkeys, falcons, lions, birds, camels and horses. The system would be the Department of Municipal Affairs' responsibility.
The ADFCA said it was too early to comment on the venture.
The chips contain the pets' identification and medical history, including their last observed health status, any diseases they may have had, any vaccines they have been given, any harm they may have inflicted on the public and their location.
The chipping programme will give authorities reliable data on the number of pets registered in each city. "The process of tracking pet health is very important because there used to be a lot of diseases like bird flu, swine flu and, as some of these pets are kept at home, their disease can affect people," Mr Al Ameri said.
"Every possible information will be recorded on this chip, which will make it easier for us to track down and control any disease spreading in the area. It is more out of concern for public safety."
He said data from the chips would also help scientific research.
"Dogs and cats had the most diseases and allergies in the past, so this will definitely help create an awareness campaign for households," he said.
The microchip will be compulsory. Registration centres will be set up in Al Mina, because most animals arrive by sea, and in municipal buildings.
The new system will also help the country keep a lid on the illegal trade in animals, according to Mr Al Ameri. "The chip will reveal the pet's owner and a tracking system that will follow the pet, in case of theft, will allow us to trace it", he said. "All pets bought will have to be registered by law."
The chips are safe and easy to insert in the animal. "Pets are usually expensive, so we're taking into consideration the owner and we don't want to hurt the pet … in any way," he said.
No prices have been set, although he said they would be "affordable".
"We are not looking for profit. Our ultimate goal is the safety and safeguard of citizens in Abu Dhabi, to be able to live healthy and disease free," Mr Al Ameri said. "We want to look out for our future generation and make sure they will not be affected by any illness of that sort."
Details on the chip can be changed should an owner sell the animal.
More consultation among the Department of Municipal Affairs, ADFCA, veterinary clinics and other animal experts is planned for the coming months. Chipping practices elsewhere will be considered.
"We are working on an agreement to determine the logistics of the system," Mr Al Ameri said.
Once the department's chairman, Majed al Mansouri, has approved the agreement, which should happen within the next fortnight, it will go to municipality officials in Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and Al Gharbia for approval.
This article has been corrected since original publication. The former Department of Municipal Affairs chairman is Majed al Mansouri, not Rashed Mubarak al Hajeri, as we stated.