Dog DNA is to be collected by a police force so kidnapped canines can be reunited with their owners in a world-first method of tackling thefts.

Gloucestershire Police are inviting owners to use a £74.99 kit to take a swab from their dog’s mouth as part of their groundbreaking ‘DNA Protected’ scheme.

The samples are then sent to a specialist forensic testing company, Cellmark, which has developed a national dog DNA database that is accessible to all police forces.

This means that when a dog is suspected to be stolen, its DNA can be run through the database to see if they have been flagged as missing.

It could also be used to link a suspected thief to a stolen dog, if the animal’s DNA is found on them or their possessions.

The technology is the first of its kind to ever be introduced in a bid to tackle dog thefts, which have surged during the pandemic.

Owners will be encouraged to use branded accessories – such as leads, collars, car stickers and tags – to alert criminals that their pet is part of the scheme, and hopefully act as a deterrent.

Temporary chief inspector Emma MacDonald, of Gloucestershire Police, said: "There has been a national rise in dog thefts since the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic and I am hopeful that this initiative will help to reassure owners and protect the dogs of Gloucestershire.

"Dog theft can have a massive impact on the owner and their families as dogs are often seen as family members and as a force we are committed to doing all that we can to prevent dog thefts from happening.

"All of our police dogs have been profiled and given new Velcro patches for their harnesses which shows our confidence in the scheme."

Gloucestershire Police says DNA Protected is one of a number of precautions available to owners to protect their dogs from theft.

Owners can currently purchase the kit, as well as branded collars, leads and tags, on the DNA Protected website.

Chris Allen, head of forensic services at Gloucestershire Police, said: "DNA is unique and a fact that has enabled Forensic Services to identify criminals for many years.

"With the application of the same processes used for human identification, the DNA Protected service promises a searchable database of canine DNA information."

He said he was "confident" that the scheme would help reduce the amount of dog theft in the county, as well as reunite dogs with their owners in the future.

Chris Nelson, police and crime commissioner for Gloucestershire, described dog theft as "one of the most distasteful elements of lockdown".

"We have to adopt whatever means we can to stop this shocking trade and hopefully advances in science will help," he said.

Mr Nelson added that losing a pet to theft, without knowing what had happened to them, was "unbearable" to owners.