Microchipping horses, donkeys and ponies is becoming compulsory in England - and the deadline is October 1.

The new law is a bid to help ensure that irresponsible owners are held to account.

It will also help owners to be reunited with their lost or stolen horses.

The Central Equine Database will enable local authorities and the police to track down equine owners who abandon their animals.

It is hoped that this will help to improve animal welfare standards and also help prevent horse theft.

Chief veterinary officer, Christine Middlemiss said: "As we have seen with cats and dogs, mandatory microchipping is a hugely important step forward in the speedy identification of abandoned or stolen animals.

"Microchipping will not only help the police and local authorities, but also support the UK’s efforts to improve traceability and ensure we have better control over any disease outbreaks.

"This new legislation will also ensure that irresponsible owners are rightly held accountable for any low standards of welfare."

In 2019, the RSPCA received more than 21,000 reports to its cruelty hotline and took 875 horses into care.

Around 70 per cent of these were not microchipped, making it difficult for the organisation to trace owners and to hold anyone responsible for the cruelty that had been inflicted upon the animals.

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RSPCA equine expert Dr Mark Kennedy said: "We’re delighted that it will soon be compulsory for horses of all ages in England to be microchipped, linking each horse directly to an owner.

"We believe this will go some way towards helping to identify irresponsible owners who abandon or neglect their horses; as well as helping to reunite owners with missing or stolen equines.

"All too frequently our officers encounter abandoned and neglected horses who are often sick, dying or even dead.

"Equine welfare charities collectively estimate there are 7,000 horses at risk of poor welfare in England and Wales alone and, with the economic fallout of Covid-19, we’re extremely concerned that many more will fall into situations of neglect, abandonment and suffering this winter."

Owners are legally required to make sure that their animals’ details are up-to-date on the Central Equine Database. This can be accessed online here and holds information on all horses in England (as well as other parts of the UK) so owners can be reunited if their animal were to ever go missing.

If equine owners do not microchip their animals by October 2020 they could face sanctions from their local authority - including a fine.