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Protecting pets from cruelty

Cat and dog

The UK has a long history of protecting animals from cruelty. In 1822 Richard Martin’s Act to Prevent the Cruel and Improper Treatment of Cattle was passed by parliament. This is the first parliamentary legislation for animal welfare in the world.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the most significant change in animal welfare legislation in almost a century.

Latest news

Key documents

Leaflet: Advice for owners on protecting the welfare of pet dogs and cats during journeys (PDF 1.2 MB)

Fireworks and animals Advice on how to keep you animals safe during the fireworks season (PDF 430 KB) – Animals have very acute hearing. Loud bangs and whistles may cause them pain, by following these simple guidelines your pet need not suffer.

Key legislation

There are codes of practice for the welfare of dogs, cats, horses (including other equidae) and privately kept non-human primates. They provide owners and keepers with information on how to meet the welfare needs of their animals, as required under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. They can also be used in courts as evidence in cases brought before them relating to poor welfare. The codes apply to England only (Wales and Scotland have their own equivalent codes), and are in force from 6 April 2010.

Companion animal welfare

In general terms ‘companion animals’ are all those species of animals which are kept by man for companionship and which are often referred to as pets.

The Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) was launched in 1999 as an independent advisory body to all parties, including central government, on companion animal welfare matters. One of CAWC’s principle aims is the assessment of existing legislation affecting the welfare of companion animals and, for example, CAWC has worked closely with Defra on issues relating to the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

When CAWC was established it was funded entirely by charitable donations and these remain a significant source of its funding. In addition Defra is providing some medium-term grant aid to CAWC payable over a three-year period from 2005.

Other laws relating to companion or domestic animals

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006, powers exist for secondary legislation and codes of practice to be made to promote the welfare of animals. The government is currently looking at a number of specific issues with a view to updating or bringing in new regulations or codes.

Until such new provisions are made, existing laws will continue to apply. These include:

The Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 – the welfare of performing animals is provided for in the general provisions to avoid suffering and ensure welfare in the Animal Welfare Act 2006. In addition the training and exhibition of performing animals is further regulated by the 1925 Act which requires trainers and exhibitors of such animals to be registered with the local authority. Under this Act, the police and officers of local authorities, who may include a vet, have power to enter premises where animals are being trained and exhibited, and if cruelty and neglect is detected, magistrates’ courts can prohibit or restrict the training or exhibition of the animals and suspend or cancel the registration granted under the Act. Under this Act local authorities are required to send copies of any certificates to Defra.  Copies of certificates should be sent to: Hugh Togher, Animal Welfare Team, Defra, Area 8B, c/o 17 Smith Square, London, SW1P 3JR.

The Pet Animals Act 1951 (as amended in 1983) - protects the welfare of animals sold as pets. The Act requires any person keeping a pet shop to be licensed by the local authority. Before granting a licence the local authority must be satisfied that the animals are kept in accommodation that is both suitable and clean; that they are supplied with appropriate food and drink; and are adequately protected from disease and fire. The local authority may attach any conditions to the licence, may inspect the licensed premises at all reasonable times and may refuse a licence if the conditions at the premises are unsatisfactory or if the terms of the licence are not being complied with.

Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the law in this area and anyone who has reason to believe that a pet shop is keeping animals in inadequate conditions should raise the matter with the local authority who will decide what action to take within the range of its powers.

Under s.2 pets cannot be sold in the street, including on barrows and markets.

Animal Boarding Establishments Act 1963 – establishments where the boarding of animals is being carried on as a business are subject to the 1963 Act, which requires such establishments to be licensed by the local authority. For the purpose of this Act the keeping of such establishments is defined as the carrying on at any premises, including a private dwelling, of a business of providing accommodation for other people’s cats and dogs.

The licence is granted at the discretion of the local authority which may take into account the suitability of the accommodation and whether the animals are well fed, exercised and protected from disease and fire.

Riding Establishments Act 1964 and 1970 - riding establishments are licensed by local authorities under the 1964 Act. The local authority can impose conditions on the licence. The local authority, in the exercise of its discretion, may take into account the suitability of the applicant/manager, the accommodation and pasture, adequacy of the provision for the horses’ health, welfare and exercise, precautions against fire and disease and the suitability of the horses as regards the reasons for which they are kept.

Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, Breeding of Dogs Act 1991 and Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 – the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act 1999, which amended and extended the provisions of the Breeding of Dogs Act 1973 and the Breeding of Dogs Act 1991, already provides protection for dogs used in breeding establishments. Under this legislation, any person who keeps a breeding establishment for dogs at any premises and carries on at those premises a business of breeding dogs for sale must obtain a licence from the local authority. Those people who are not in the business of breeding dogs for sale, so called “hobby breeders”, and produce less than five litters in any period of 12 months do not need to obtain a licence.

The local authority has the discretion whether to grant a licence and, before doing so, must satisfy itself that the animals are provided with suitable accommodation, food, water and bedding material; are adequately exercised and visited at suitable intervals; and that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent and control the spread of diseases amongst dogs. Local authorities are responsible for enforcing the legislation. In addition to ensuring that dogs are kept in suitable accommodation, the law also places limits on the frequency and timing of breeding from a bitch. Bitches cannot be mated before they are a year old, must have no more than six litters in a lifetime and can only have one litter every 12 months. Breeding records must be kept to ensure that these requirements are adhered to. Puppies that are produced at licensed breeding establishments can only be sold at those premises or a licensed pet shop.

Further information

Page last modified: 30 December 2010

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