Policy paper

2010 to 2015 government policy: animal welfare

Updated 8 May 2015

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

This is a copy of a document that stated a policy of the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. The previous URL of this page was https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/protecting-animal-welfare. Current policies can be found at the GOV.UK policies list.


Whether we farm animals for food, keep them as pets, or use them for recreation, we need to make sure they are properly looked after.

This requires more than simply protecting them from cruelty. We need to meet their needs for food, water and living space, protect them from disease, and create a healthy and stress-free living environment for them. When we slaughter animals for food, we need to ensure that, as far as possible, they have calm, painless deaths.

Anyone who owns or keeps animals is responsible for their welfare.


Animal welfare legislation

We use EU and national legislation to protect animal welfare in the UK. There is legislation on all aspects of animal farming, including animal welfare on farms, during transport, at markets and at slaughter. There is also legislation relating to pets.

Codes of practice

We provide codes of practice to help farmers (and anyone else who keeps an animal):

  • understand what the EU and national animal welfare laws mean
  • understand what they need to do to comply with the rules

These also have advice on good practice for animal husbandry.

We’re working with industry on changing the way these codes are produced and updated. We aim to make them more user-friendly, and based on the latest science and technology.

Pets (companion animals)

We provide guidance on the legislation dealing with welfare of companion animals (pets). We’re putting in place new measures to improve dog welfare and encourage dog owners to be responsible.

Dog microchipping

It will be compulsory for all dogs to be microchipped from 6 April 2016.

Read our guidance on getting your dog microchipped, published in February 2016.

Dangerous dogs

We’ve introduced stronger laws about dangerous dogs. It’s now against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere, including the owner’s home. We have made new laws which will help prevent dog attacks.

We consulted on these proposals in 2012.


We’re working to introduce a ban on the use of wild animals in travelling circuses. The current rules say:

  • travelling circuses that intend to use wild animals must be licensed to do so

  • anyone training and exhibiting such animals must be registered with the appropriate local authority

There’s no EU legislation on the welfare of animals in circuses.

Advice and guidance for farmers

We publish advice for farmers to help them with topical welfare issues, like coping with severe weather conditions.

The Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) provides technical advice for farmers and others involved in animal health and welfare, including the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and British Veterinary Association.

We work with agencies and governments in the devolved administrations to make sure that all the advice and guidance we offer is consistent and reflects the latest policy developments.

Monitoring animal welfare

Through the AHVLA, we monitor and inspect farms, markets and transport premises to check that the laws on animal health and welfare are being upheld. The Food Standards Agency monitors slaughterhouses.

Where possible, we and the AHVLA work with local authorities, and other bodies like the Rural Payments Agency which also makes checks on farms, so our monitoring of animal welfare is as extensive as it can be. We prosecute people who break the law.

Welfare at slaughter

We’re implementing new EU rules, EU Regulation 1099/2009, on the protection of animal welfare at slaughter. These came into force on 1 January 2013.

New national legislation (the Welfare of Animals at the Time of Killing (England) Regulations) will come into force in autumn 2013.

We meet the requirements of EU law to:

  • monitor and inspect slaughterhouses
  • make sure slaughtermen are properly trained and licensed
  • make sure that appropriate methods of killing and slaughter processes are used

Welfare in transport

Standards on welfare in transport are set by EU law, implemented by national law. We:

  • work with local authorities and AHVLA to ensure these standards are met
  • provide guidance to help people transporting animals

See further details about how we protect animal welfare in transport.

International animal welfare

We work with the EC and other member states, with the support of international animal welfare organisations and other interested groups, to try and raise global standards of animal welfare in forums like the OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health).

See more information about how we work to protect the welfare of wild animals in travelling circuses.

Laws about hunting and harvesting animals

We make and maintain laws about hunting and harvesting animals, to make sure this isn’t done in a cruel or excessive way. These include:

We also regulate methods of killing or taking animals (like pesticides and spring traps) so that these are used effectively, safely and humanely.

These restrictions can apply to specific species, or in some cases all wild animals. The Welfare Act extends to protection of all wild animals. Wild mammals are also protected from acts of intentional cruelty.

Evidence and research

The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), on behalf of all UK administrations, funds a programme of research on animal welfare. This provides evidence to inform animal welfare policies.


The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was introduced to provide legal clarity on the basic welfare requirements on all animal owners and keepers in a single piece of national legislation.

Under the act, anyone who is cruel to an animal, or does not provide for its welfare needs, may be banned from owning animals, fined up to £20,000 and/or sent to prison.

More specific legislation is also applied to the particular circumstances in different sectors of industry.

Who we’re working with

The Farm Animal Welfare Committee (FAWC) provides independent advice to the UK government (and the governments in Scotland and Wales) on the welfare of farmed animals (including in relation to welfare at killing, where they are the UK government’s nominated scientific body).

The Companion Animal Welfare Council provides scientific and technical advice to government on the welfare of pets generally.

Appendix 1: animal welfare in transport

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

The rules on welfare in transport

EU law (EU Council Regulation 1/2005) sets the standards for animal welfare during transport. It’s implemented nationally through The Welfare of Animals (Transport) (England) Order 2006 and equivalent legislation in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The rules require people to make sure that any journey is properly planned, with time in transit kept to a minimum. Any animal transported must be:

  • fit for travel
  • provided with the necessary water, feed and rest
  • provided with sufficient floor space and height

All forms of transport and the loading and unloading facilities used should be designed, constructed and maintained to avoid injury and suffering.

People handling the animals should be suitably trained.

Monitoring and enforcement

We make sure these standards are met by:

  • authorising all transporters
  • approving the vehicles used for long journeys (over 8 hours)
  • making sure that competency training is provided to hauliers and others transporting animals

The main responsibility for enforcement lies with local authorities, with inspections normally undertaken by trading standards officers. However, the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) also does checks on markets, ports, at the roadside and at supervised loadings for export.

It also polices the journey time controls by checking the appropriate documentation relating to individual journeys (journey logs) for long journeys.

It checks returned journey logs after the journey has been completed to make sure it complied with the rules.

Guidance for people transporting animals

We provide a range of guidance for people transporting animals:

We also provide advice on transporting:

  • Cattle
  • Sheep
  • Poultry
  • Pigs
  • Goats
  • Horses, ponies and other domestic equines

Appendix 2: companion animal (pet) care

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Pet welfare legislation

There’s no EU legislation on the welfare of pets. However, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides for a general ‘duty of care’.

There are also specific national measures relating to:

All of these require that premises must be licensed by the appropriate local authority.

Anyone who has performing animals must be registered with the relevant local authority (Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925).

Guidance for people who keep pets

We provide guidance in the form of codes of practice for:

Also see advice on:

Appendix 3: wild animals in travelling circuses

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We published draft legislation - the draft Wild Animals in Circuses Bill, on 16 April 2013. The draft bill sets out a ban on the use of all wild animals in travelling circuses in England.

We published a written ministerial statement explaining the draft bill and also an impact assessment setting out the costs and benefits of the options considered.

The House of Commons’ Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committee has subjected the bill to pre-legislative scrutiny. This involved the committee gathering evidence from experts and publishing a report about the draft bill.

The committee issued its report on 9 July and published the government’s response.

Anyone in England operating a travelling circus with wild animals must still apply for and receive a licence under the Welfare of Wild Animals in Travelling Circuses (England) Regulations 2012.

The regulations ensure that if a travelling circus continues to use wild animals before a ban can take effect, they will be subject to regular inspections to check they’re meeting strict licensing conditions and welfare standards.

The regulations are made under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The act continues to apply in full, including the duty of care that applies to owners of animals as well as the offence making it illegal to cause an animal to suffer unnecessarily.

The Performing Animals (Regulation) Act 1925 requires all those training and exhibiting such animals to be registered with the appropriate local authority.

Further information

Further information is available:

Additional information for applicants:

Appendix 4: dangerous dogs

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

We have introduced stronger laws about dangerous dogs, and we have increased the penalties that can apply to people who allow dogs to be dangerously out of control.

We have done this to help protect public safety and reduce dog attacks.

We’ve made new laws twice this year to change the arrangements for controlling dangerous dogs.

It’s now against the law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere. This change came into force in May 2014. We changed the law so that people could be prosecuted if their dogs carried out an attack anywhere, including in the owner’s own home. We increased the maximum prison sentences to:

  • 14 years for a fatal dog attack
  • 5 years for injury
  • 3 years for an attack on an assistance dog

We have also introduced new laws to help local authorities or the police to prevent dog attacks, which came into force on 20 October 2014.

They apply if a dog is causing a nuisance to people, for example by repeatedly escaping from a garden, or by acting aggressively towards visitors or other animals.

If someone complains to the council or police about a dog, its owners could be ordered to do any or all of the following:

  • attend dog training classes
  • muzzle the dog or require it to be on a lead in public
  • require the dog to be microchipped and or neutered
  • repair fencing to prevent the dog leaving the property

Police and local authorities can demand that owners take action to prevent a dog attack; if the owners don’t do so, then they will risk a fine of up to £20,000.

We’ve published guidance for police forces and local authorities – see Dealing with irresponsible dog ownership: practitioner’s manual. This will help them to use their powers under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to prevent dog attacks.

Further information

Appendix 5: dog microchipping

This was a supporting detail page of the main policy document.

Lost and stray dogs cost the taxpayer and welfare charities £33 million per year. A microchip makes it much easier to reunite a dog with its owner.

Microchipping will reduce the burden on animal charities and local authorities and help protect the welfare of dogs by promoting responsible dog ownership.

Read our guidance on getting your dog microchipped, published in February 2016.

Under the Microchipping of Dogs (England) Regulations 2015 – new laws that we made in February 2015 – it will be compulsory for all dogs over the age of 8 weeks in England to be fitted with microchips from 6 April 2016.

Dogs will need to be microchipped and registered with their keepers’ contact details. All keepers, including breeders, must keep these details up to date. The only exemption from the requirement is where a vet has certified in writing that a dog is unfit to be microchipped.

Before the new requirements come into effect, pet owners or keepers can get their dogs microchipped free of charge in a number of places. Many vets also offer free microchipping as do other animal welfare organisations and some local authorities.

Once the new rules come into effect, if a dog without a microchip comes to the attention of the authorities, its keeper may be served with a notice requiring the dog to be microchipped, and may face criminal prosecution and a £500 fine if they do not comply with the notice.

Anyone breeding dogs will be responsible for microchipping their puppies before they sell or give them to new keepers. All imported dogs will need to have a microchip. Breeders will be required to register their own details and these will be recorded against the microchip for the life of the dog.

Microchip implanters must be trained and competent. Lantra have an approved training course.

Reporting microchip failures

Microchips are reliable and safe, but they do occasionally fail to work.

From 24 February 2015 anyone who finds that an implanted microchip has failed or has moved from where it was implanted, or where a microchip has caused any abnormal reaction in the animal, must report it to the microchip adverse event reporting scheme run by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate. Pet owners or keepers can seek advice from their vets.

Further information

Read our guidance on getting your dog microchipped, published in February 2016.