Guidance

Animal welfare legislation: protecting pets

Guidance and legislation covering pet welfare and animal cruelty.

This guide summarises guidance and legislation covering pet welfare and animal cruelty.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the principal animal welfare legislation.

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 considering a number of specific issues including updating or bringing in new regulations or codes. Until such new provisions are made, existing laws will continue to apply.

Guidance for pet owners

Codes of practice

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.

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 councils, 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 councils 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)

This act protects the welfare of animals sold as pets. It requires any person keeping a pet shop to be licensed by the local council.

Before granting a licence the council 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
  • are adequately protected from disease and fire

The local council 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.

Councils 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 council who will decide what action to take within the range of its powers.

Under section 2 of this act, 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 council. 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 council 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 councils under the 1964 act. The council can impose conditions on the licence. The council, in the exercise of its discretion, may take into account:

  • the suitability of the applicant or manager
  • the accommodation and pasture
  • adequacy of the provision for the horses’ health, welfare and exercise
  • precautions against fire and disease
  • suitability of the horses with regards to the reasons they are being 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 council. Those people who are not in the business of breeding dogs for sale, so called “hobby breeders”, and produce less than 5 litters in any period of 12 months do not need a licence.

The local council 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
  • that all reasonable precautions are taken to prevent and control the spread of diseases amongst dogs

Local councils 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 6 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.

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