Owning and caring for a pet can be a source of great enjoyment, but being a pet owner is also a huge responsibility and part of being a responsible owner includes knowing about and understanding the law surrounding pet ownership. A surprising number of pet owners in the UK are not aware of the law, or of what they are required to provide for their pets to ensure their physical and mental well being. The PDSA’s Annual PAW Report 2016 showed that only 39% of pet owners surveyed were familiar with the Animal Welfare Act (this is an improvement on 35% from 2016) .
Although not all owners are familiar with the ins and outs of the actual Animal Welfare Act, the majority are providing everything their pet needs already. Sadly though, the RSPCA investigated a total of 149,604 complaints of animal abuse last year, successfully prosecuted 744 people (down by 6.53%) and secured 628 disqualification orders following prosecution (down 4.46%)
The Animal Welfare Act
This came into force on April 6th 2007. It increased and introduced new penalties for acts of cruelty, neglect, mutilation, tail docking and animal fighting but importantly, it also introduced a duty of care for all pet owners. There is no particularly perfect way to care for pets because each pet will have it’s own individual needs, so it is up to you as the owner to find out what your particular pet’s needs are and ensure that you can meet them.
The Animal Welfare Act applies to anyone who is responsible for an animal whether permanently or temporarily and includes fines of up to £20,000, a maximum jail term of 51 weeks and a lifetime ban on some owners keeping pets.
Under Section 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2006 you must take all reasonable steps to ensure that you meet the needs of your pet. I have listed the Welfare points in bold and added suggestions of how this can be achieved.
1. Provide a suitable environment and living space
- You pet will need a safe, clean environment with protection from hazards. If your pet is kept outside you need to check it frequently to ensure he or she is safe and well.
- A comfortable, clean, dry, quiet, draught-free rest area.
- Somewhere to hide in order to avoid things that frighten it.
- Access to an appropriate place, away from its resting area, which it can use as a toilet area.
- The living area should be large enough to be comfortable and provide sufficient space to move around in. Minimum cage sizes for small animals such as rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and other rodents should be taken into consideration – the bigger the better!
- The living area should be properly ventilated and at the correct temperature so that the pet does not get too hot or cold.
- You should never leave your pet unattended in any situation, or for any period of time, that is likely to cause it distress or harm.
- When transporting your pet, make sure it is comfortable, safe and secure at all times. The transport must be well ventilated and at the correct temperature. Your pet should have access to water if the journey is longer than a few hours (small furries and birds should have access to food and water all of the time). Bedding or flooring must be adequate and absorb any moisture if the pet goes to the toilet during transport. Dogs should be given toilet breaks on longer journeys, but ensure they cannot escape in an unfamiliar place!
2. Provide a diet suitable for your pet’s needs
- Your pet will need clean fresh drinking water at all times. If you own a dog, this may mean taking water with you on walks where clean water is unlikely to be available.
- You must provide your pet with a balanced diet that is suited to its individual needs including its age, level of activity and health.
- You must ensure that you feed the correct amount of food and that your pet is maintained at the correct weight and does not become underweight or overweight/obese.
- Your pet must be able to reach it’s food and water easily.
- If you are uncertain what diet is best for your pet you should seek advice from a veterinary practice or suitably qualified pet care specialist.
3. Allow your pet to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- Make sure your pet has enough things to do in it’s environment so that it does not become distressed or bored. This may mean adding toys, hiding places, climbing places, scratching posts, ladders, digging places, activity toys and feeders etc to suit your pet’s individual requirements. For example giving cats access to high places and scratching places.
- Make sure your pet has access to safe toys and suitable objects to play with and, in the cases of some pets, chew on.
- Ensure that your pet can rest undisturbed when it needs to – this may mean giving them a bed, crate or separate part in their living space where they will not be disturbed by people or other animals when they are resting.
- Provide your pet with regular opportunities for exercise and play with people or other pets, depending on the species and needs of your pet.
- Make sure that your pet has the opportunity to exercise properly every day. It is important to keep your pet fit, active and mentally stimulated. If you are unsure how much or what type of exercise to provide, seek advice from a veterinary nurse or suitably qualified pet care specialist.
- Ensure that where appropriate you train your pet. Use only positive reward based training and avoid harsh, painful or frightening training methods. Training is not only necessary for a well behaved pet, it is great for mental stimulation and bonding. Although most people associate training with dogs, almost any pet can be trained including cats, rabbits, rodents and birds. (View our training article)
4. To house your pet with, or apart from, other animals
- Make sure that your pet is never left alone long enough for it to become distressed.
- Some pets are solitary and do not need to live with other animals, for example some dogs, cats and certain types of rodents prefer to be live as a sole pet, but others such as rabbits, guinea pigs and rats are very social and should be housed with one or more companions of the same species.
- If your pet lives on it’s own make sure that it has opportunities to spend enough time with people so that it does not become lonely or bored.
- In the case of dogs, you should ensure that your dog has plenty of opportunity to meet, socialise and play with other friendly dogs. Encourage your dog to be friendly towards other dogs from an early age. There are some dogs that just don’t like other dogs, so in this case you will need to ensure they have plenty of contact from you.
- Animals should be given regular opportunities to socialise with people and, where appropriate for the species of pet, other animals from an early age.
- It is important that if you keep more than one pet of the same or different species, that they get on well together and do not fight. They must have plenty of space to move away or hide from each other if necessary.
- When pets live together adequate extra resources must be provided for some species, for example separate water bowls, food bowls, litter trays and toys. This will help avoid any conflict and tension over valuable resources. With dogs you may need to make an effort to provide them with 1-1 time with you and without the other dog.
- If your dog is fearful of, or aggressive towards other dogs or people, or if certain social interactions distress or frighten your dog we advise you seek appropriate advice from a qualified canine behaviourist.
5. To protect your pet from pain, suffering, injury, illness and disease
- You need to take precautions to keep your pet safe from injury.
- If you notice any changes in your pet’s behaviour or normal routine you should contact a veterinary practice and follow the advice you are given.
- Check your pet regularly for signs of injury, disease or illness.
- Maintain your pet’s condition, for example grooming and removing any knots in the coat (or get a groomer to do this for you) , making sure there is no faecal matter and urine on the the coat and making sure that your pet is fit and well.
- If you recognise signs and symptoms of disease, suspect that your pet is in pain, ill or injured or if you have any concerns about its health or welfare contact a veterinary practice and follow the advice regarding treatment.
- Ensure that your pet has regular veterinary health checks and that you provide preventative health care, where appropriate to the species of pet, for example vaccinations, booster vaccinations, worming, flea treatment and neutering.
- Clean up after your pet including cleaning the toileting area and cage or enclosure regularly and with the appropriate, safe cleaning products to avoid disease and illness.
- Protect your pets from ingesting or coming in to contact with harmful household items and substances such as medicines and foods intended for humans or other animals, cleaning products or antifreeze. You should always seek veterinary advice if you suspect that your pet has eaten anything harmful.
- Collars on cats and dogs should be of the correct size and fit, and should not cause any pain or discomfort; dogs are required to wear a collar and identity tag when in a public place by law.
- If your pet is microchipped remember to keep the microchip database up to date with any changes in your contact details.
- You should seek the advice of your veterinary practice before breeding your pet and take all reasonable steps to ensure that both the male and female pets are fit and healthy, with no inheritable diseases or conditions and that you will be able to find suitable homes for the offspring.
Every person that owns and/or looks after an animal must take this act into consideration so that they can be sure they are providing the right care for that animal at all times.
As a responsible dog owner, there are several laws regarding dog ownership that you should be aware of and we have put the most important ones into this article.
Microchipping of Dogs (Control of Dogs Order)
All dogs in England must be microchipped and registered on an approved database by the time they are 8 weeks old. Breeders will need to microchip their puppies before they are transferred to a new owner. and new owners will be responsible for updating the microchip with their details. The owners/keepers of the dog must ensure that their details are kept up to date on the microchip database for their dog.
Identification (Control of Dogs Order)
Your dog must wear an identity disk or tag on his or her collar (or harness) while in a public place i.e. anywhere outside your property. The tag must have, at the very least, your surname and address on it; a contact telephone number is optional. This law applies even if your dog is microchipped and there is a fine of up to £5000 that may be given if your dog is in a public place and not wearing some form of ID. This applies regardless of whether you are with your dog or not.
Public Spaces Protection Orders (Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act
and the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime & Policing Act)
Some public areas in England and Wales are covered by Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) – previously called Dog Control Orders (DCOs). There should be signs up designating these controlled areas
In public areas with PSPOs, you may have to:
- Keep your dog on a lead – this may be all of the time or during certain hours and times of the year.
- Put your dog on a lead if told to by a police officer, police community support officer or someone from the council.
- Stop your dog going to certain places – like farmland or parts of a park
- Limit the number of dogs you have with you (this applies to professional dog walkers too)
If you ignore a PSPO, you can be fined a £100 on the spot fixed penalty notice or up to £1,000 if it goes to court (You can’t be fined if you’re a registered blind dog owner).
Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act – Cleaning Up After Your Dog (Poop Scooping)
It is illegal to let your dog foul in a public place and not clean it up. Claiming that you are unaware that your dog had defecated or not having the correct equipment with you (i.e. poop bags), is not an acceptable excuse. Dog poo on pavements and in playing/green areas is not only unpleasant for other people and animals, but it also carries health hazards.
You can face an on the spot fixed penalty fine of £50 -£80 if you do not clean up after your dog. If you refuse to pay the fine you can be prosecuted and face a court appearance with a fine of up to £1000
Stray Dogs (Environmental Protection Act)
If the owner fails to come forward and pay the Council’s fees within 7 days from date of seizure or service of a notice, the Council may rehome the dog or may have it put to sleep.
Yet another reason why your dog should wear an id tag and be microchipped.
Control Of Your Dog – Dangerous Dogs Act and the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime & Policing Act
It is against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control. This now applies to both private property and public places.
- You must be able to control your dog at all times, this means being able to call your dog back to you and making sure that he or she responds to you.
- Your dog must not jump up at or chase other members of the public. Even the friendliest or smallest of dogs can cause damage by jumping up at someone, especially a child or an elderly person.
- If there is any possibility that your dog is might attack another dog or a person he or she must be muzzled in public places.
- You must not train or encourage your dog to attack/threaten people or other dogs.
Your dog is considered dangerously out of control if it:
1. Injures someone
2. Makes someone worried that it might injure them
3. It attacks a Guide Dog
A court may also consider your dog dangerously out of control if
1. It injures someone’s animal
2. If the owner of the animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal
Depending on the severity of the offence you could be faced with a prison sentence of between 6 months and 14 years and/or an unlimited fine. Your dog may be destroyed and you may not be able to own dogs in the future.
Walking and Travelling With your Dog (The Road Traffic Act)
It is an offence to have a dog on a designated road without it being held on a lead.
Dogs (or indeed any animal) travelling in vehicles should not be a nuisance or in any way distract the driver during a journey. When travelling in a vehicle, you must ensure that your dog is suitably restrained, either in a crate/carrier, behind a dog guard or by using a seatbelt harness. A dog that is loose in a car can cause an accident very easily.
If you are involved in a collision between your vehicle and a dog, you must stop, and the police must be informed. The driver of a car involved in a collision with a dog MUST stop and stay on the scene until the police have given the driver permission to leave, which usually happens after they have attended the scene (If you see someone hit a dog with a car and drive off, inform the police and give them as much detail as possible).
If the dog was loose at the time of the incident, the owner of the dog may be liable for any damage caused to the car or any injury caused to the driver (see third party liability below), which is another great reason to insure your pet.
Noise Nuisance (Environmental Protection Act)
A barking dog can be classed as a statutory nuisance if it is intrusive and irritating and is affecting someone’s quiet enjoyment of their property. If a complaint is made to the local authority, they may serve a Noise Abatement Notice. For more information read our barking dogs article.
Causing Distress to Farm Animals (Protection of Livestock Act)
You must never let your dog off the lead anywhere near livestock (farm animals/horses) unless you can be absolutely sure that he or she won’t go anywhere near them. You are responsible for what your dog does, and if your dog is worrying livestock -“Worrying” means attacking, chasing in a way that could cause injury, suffering, abortion or loss of produce, or simply being loose (not on lead or otherwise under close control) in a field or enclosure containing livestock -, you can be fined up to £1,000 plus compensation to the farmer.
You could also be prosecuted under the Dangerous Dogs Act, meaning a much harsher sentence for you and possibly also your dog, if he or she was deemed to be dangerously out of control.
Third Party Liability (Animals Act and Dangerous Dogs Act)
The keeper of a dog is strictly liable for any damage caused by the dog in certain circumstances. This can include destruction of property and personal injury, illness or death (including the damage done to a person or their car if they hit your dog in the road!) It is recommended that you take out third party insurance liability cover as a precaution.
The above information is only a guideline of the laws involved in pet ownership, for further and more in-depth information on dog law we recommend that you visit www.legislation.gov.uk
The law surrounding dog ownership can be very complicated especially if a dog has injured someone. If you are concerned or you are involved in a case about your own dog, we recommend that you contact a dog law specialist as soon as possible for advice.