The Animal Welfare Act Broken Down

The Animal Welfare Act 2006, an overhaul of pet abuse laws, came into force in England and Wales in 2007. The Act was the first review of pet law in 94 years. It aimed to update the Protection of Animals Act 1911, making the law reflect 21st-century practice and the developments in veterinary science.

The Act places a ‘duty of care’ on pet owners to provide for their animals’ basic needs, such as adequate food and water, veterinary treatment and an appropriate environment in which to live. Unlike previous legislation, the Act applies to all animals on common land.

Further, the Act has introduced tougher penalties for abusers for neglect and cruelty, including fines of up to £20,000, a maximum jail term of 51 weeks and a lifetime ban on some owners keeping pets. The Act also allows enforcers such as the RSPCA to have more powers to intervene if they suspect a pet is being neglected.

The Act has also raised the minimum age for buying a pet or winning one as a prize from 12 to 16, without parental accompaniment. It has also banned the cutting or removal of animals’ tails for cosmetic reasons, apart from ‘working’ dogs such as those in the police and armed forces.

Other acts of animal mutilation are also banned, but some practices including castrating, spaying cats and dogs and ear-tagging have not been made illegal.

The 5 Welfare Needs:

•    need for a suitable environment.

•    need for a suitable diet.

•    need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns (such as exercise).

•    need to be housed with, or apart, from other animals.

•    need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

Prevention of Harm:

Offences include:

•    causing a protected animal to suffer unnecessarily knowing it would suffer,

•    unreasonably allowing an animal in that person’s care to suffer from somebody else,

•    mutilating an animal,

•    docking a dog’s tail where prohibited,

•    showing a dog with an illegally docked tail at a dog show with fee-paying patrons,

•    administering poison to an animal (or permits to be administered).

Animal Fighting Includes:

  • causing an animal to fight,
  •  receiving money from admission to or publicises an animal fight,
  • providing information about an animal fight to another to enable or encourage attendance,
  • making a bet as to the outcome of an animal fight,
  • taking part in an animal fight,
  • training an animal to take part in a fight,
  • keeping any animal fighting premises,
  • attending an animal fight (without lawful excuse),
  • possessing a recording of an animal fight that took place in the UK (without lawful excuse) with intent to supply,
  • showing another person a recording of an animal fight that took place in the UK (without lawful excuse).

Promotion of Welfare:

A person has a duty of care towards animals.  That person is responsible for:

•    Suitable environment.

•    Diet.

•    Housing with or apart from other animals.

•    Protection from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

•    Animals cannot be sold to children under 16 years outside a family context.

•    Animals cannot be given as prizes to children under 16 years.

Licensing and Registration:

An appropriate national authority can make regulations regarding the licence and registration of animals.

Codes of Practice:

•    An appropriate national authority may issue and revise codes of practice for providing practical guidance in respect to any provision in this Act.

•    Failing to comply with a code of practice’s provision will not, of itself, render that person liable to proceedings of any kind. However such failure to comply may sway proceedings under other provisions in the Act.

•    Where the Secretary of State proposes to issue or revise a code of practice, he/she must submit it to Parliament, and if one House rejects the draft within 40 days the Secretary of State must take no further action.

•    If both Houses reject the draft, then the Secretary of State may amend the draft and re-submit.  

Animals in Distress:

An inspector may take steps felt to be immediately necessary to alleviate an animal that is suffering, but this does not include killing the animal.

An inspector or constable may kill a protected animal if:

•    a veterinary surgeon certifies it is in its own interests,

•    there is no reasonable alternative to killing it, and it is not reasonably practical to wait for a veterinary surgeon.

An inspector or constable may take into possession a protected animal if:

•    a veterinary surgeon certifies it is suffering or likely to suffer,

•    the animal appears to be suffering (or is likely to) and the need for action is such it is not practical to wait for a veterinary surgeon.

If an animal is killed or taken into possession and the owner does not know – then steps should be reasonably taken to notify the owner

•    Deliberately obstructing somebody in the performance of this section of the Act is an offence.

•    An inspector or constable may enter a premise (other than areas of private dwelling) to search for a protected animal and/or if they reasonably believe that a protected animal is on the premises and the animal is suffering or likely to suffer. This entry may take place without a warrant using force if the entry appears required before a warrant could be obtained.

A court has the following powers to make orders concerning possessed animals:

  • specified treatment be administered to the animal,
    • possession should be given to a specified person,
    • the animal should be sold, and
    • the killing of the animal.
  • The court will not make such orders until it has given the owner of the animal an opportunity to be heard or is satisfied that it is not practical to communicate with the owner.
  • If the court requires a person to reimburse the expenses of carrying out an order that person may appeal to the Crown Court against that expense order.

Enforcement Powers:

•    A constable may seize an animal in relation to an animal fighting offence.

•    A constable may enter and search premises (except for private dwelling areas) for the seizure of an animal related to a fighting offence if he/she reasonably believes there is an animal on the premises.

•    Suspicion of other offences in this Act may lead to a warrant being issued authorising an inspector or constable to search for evidence of such an offence.

•    An inspector may require the holder of a licence to produce any records which are required to be kept.

•    An inspector may carry out an inspection to check compliance with licence conditions.

•    An inspector may carry out an inspection to check compliance with a registration.

•    An inspector may, for the purpose of inspecting conditions relating to animal welfare, carry out inspections relating to animals bred or kept for farming purposes.


If a person is convicted of an offence, the court may make an order disqualifying that person from:

•    owning animals,

•    keeping animals,

•    participating in the keeping of animals,

•    dealing in animals,

•    transporting animals, and

•    arranging the transport of animals.

The disqualification may relate to specific kinds of animal or animals generally.

Post-Conviction Powers:

A person guilty of an offence for unnecessary suffering, mutilation, tail docking, poisoning, or fighting shall be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment of up to 51 weeks or a fine up to £20,000 or both.

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