Cats and the Law Photo

The law and your cat

Duty to Care PhotoAs a cat owner, you can’t be expected to be an expert in relation to the law as it applies to you and your cat but it’s useful to have a general understanding of the legislation that may be relevant to you (e.g. should your cat toilet in a neighbour’s garden, are you inadvertently doing something detrimental to your cat’s welfare etc.).

A lot of the legislation that relates to animals has been combined in to the Animal Welfare Act 2006 (which applies to England and Wales), the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 and the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011.

There are also other pieces of legislation relevant to cats. Here’s a brief overview of some of the main ones.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 that applies in England and Wales is intended to prevent animal cruelty and promote welfare. In relation to cats, the Act applies to domestic as well as feral cats.

The Act places an obligation on everyone to avoid cruelty to animals. The Act also places responsibility on owners to ensure that the welfare needs of their cat(s) are met.

The Act also places this same obligation on those people who are in charge of or responsible for cats in their care (e.g. animal rescue charities, cat sitters, vets, catteries etc.).

The Act emphasises the importance of the need:-

  • for a suitable environment/place to live.
  • for a suitable diet.
  • to exhibit normal behaviour patterns.
  • to be housed with, or apart from, other animals.
  • to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

The potential penalties under the Act for cruelty or not providing for a cat’s welfare needs include a ban on owning animals, a fine (up to £20,000) or prison sentence (up to six months).

Theft Act 1968

Under this Act cats are considered to be the property of their owners and so the theft of a cat is an offence under the Act.

A cat that roams or strays away from home or is lost remains the property of the original owner and so it’s important to do everything reasonable to try and locate the owner of a stray or lost cat that you might take in.

criminal-catCriminal Damage Act 1971

Because a cat is seen as the property of the cat’s owner, someone killing or injuring a person’s cat is committing an offence under this Act.

The Common Law Duty of Care

Because cats are seen as less likely to cause damage to property or injury to people in comparison to some other animals (e.g. livestock, dogs), cats owners are not as obliged to control their cats as (for example) dog owners are under the Dangerous Dogs Act.

However, under common law, cat owners are still expected to take reasonable steps to ensure that their cats don’t cause injury to people or damage to property.

What to do if you Suspect Cruelty or Neglect

In relation to cruelty, If you suspect an animal is being subjected to cruelty or is being neglected, you should contact the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) via their 24 hour cruelty line on

0300 1234 999.

When you call please be prepared to provide a detailed description of what you know about the animal to the call handler (e.g. what you’ve heard, seen etc.).

Sue-HartleyMany thanks to Sue Hartley BSc MSc CPsycholour VPH resident Pet Behaviour expert. Sue Hartley, of Life On Paws, is a qualified dog and cat behaviourist with over 15 years experience of working with pets and people to understand and change behaviour. Sue has a BSc in Psychology, an MSc in Occupational Psychology and a Postgraduate Diploma in Clinical Animal Behaviour.



Accessed 3rd September 2014.

Accessed 3rd September 2014.

Accessed 3rd September 2014.

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