It’s against the law to neglect or be cruel to an animal that’s kept as a pet. If you’re responsible for an animal, you must make sure that you care for it properly.

You must make sure that any animal you own or care for:

  • has a proper diet and fresh water
  • has somewhere suitable to live
  • is kept with or away from other animals, depending on its needs
  • is allowed to express itself and behave normally
  • is protected from, and treated for, illness and injury

You must be over 16 years old to buy an animal.


You may need to get a licence from your local council for:

  • some types of exotic wild animals
  • domestic-wild hybrid animals
  • running a business like a riding stables or pet shop

You don’t need a licence for most common domestic pets.

Contact your local council to apply for a licence or to check if you need one. You must get the licence before you get the animal.

Find out more about protecting pets from cruelty.

You can find information on looking after the welfare of farm animals on the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) website.

You can get an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to 6 months if you are cruel to an animal or don’t care for it properly. You may also be banned from owning animals in future.

Report cruelty to animals

If you think that someone is neglecting or being cruel to an animal, contact the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), or the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) if you’re in Scotland.

RSPCA 24-hour cruelty and advice line
0300 1234 999

SSPCA animal helpline (open 7am to 11pm)
03000 999 999
Find out about call charges

You’ll be asked to give a detailed description of what you’ve seen or heard. You don’t have to give your details if you don’t want to.