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Learn about the ways you are obliged to care for your cat - and how the Animal Welfare Act relates to cats and the law.

The five welfare needs

All animals are protected from harm by law. In addition, animal owners are responsible for ensuring that their pets have all of their needs met.

The five welfare needs are:

  • to have a suitable environment
  • to have a suitable diet
  • to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns
  • to have the opportunity to be alone
  • to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease


How to report cruelty or neglect

In England, you can call the RSPCA to report cruelty, or abuses of the five welfare needs outlined above. 

In Scotland, contact the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) on 03000 999 999.

In Northern Ireland, contact the Ulster Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (USPCA) on 028 3025 1000.

Cats Protection is a welfare and rehoming charity and is not able to investigate or prosecute cases of cruelty.

Animal Welfare Act 2006

Cats Protection was heavily involved in the campaign to raise sentences for cruelty. In 2021 the maximum penalty for cruelty offences (causing unnecessary suffering) was raised from six months to five years and/or an unlimited fine.

Penalties for committing an act of cruelty, or failing to meet your cat's welfare needs, also include a ban from owning animals.

The Act increases the minimum age that anyone can buy a cat or other animal to 16.

See also - The Animal Welfare Act 2006

Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006

The Scottish Act has a few differences to the Animal Welfare Act 2006. For example, the Scottish Act retains the offence of abandonment, whereas in England and Wales this is covered by the cruelty offences and the duty to ensure welfare.

See also - Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006

Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011

The Northern Irish Act matches the provisions of the other two acts and retains the offence of abandonment.

See also - Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011

Theft Act 1968

Cats are regarded in law as property, so the theft of a cat is treated as an offence under the Act, in the same way as theft of any other property.

A cat that is lost or has strayed is generally regarded as the property of the original owner. It is therefore necessary to try to return a lost cat to its owner.

Criminal Damage Act 1971

If a person kills or injures a cat belonging to another person, they may have committed an offence under this act, because the law regards cats as property.

The Common Law Duty of Care

It is often thought that cats have a right to roam wherever they wish. This idea is based on the fact that dog and livestock owners are obliged by law to keep their animals under control - but these duties do not apply to cat owners. The law recognises that cats are less likely to cause injury to people or damage property than some other animals.

However, cat owners do have a duty at law to take reasonable care to ensure that their cats do not injure people or damage property. Cases involving damage to property or injury to people by cats are rare.

The legal implications of keeping many cats

If you keep a large number of cats in a home, the Local Planning Authority may consider that the number of cats is not incidental to the ordinary use and enjoyment of the residence, and they may require you to make a planning application for change of use. If this is not granted, you may be required to reduce the number of cats in your home.

Environmental Health departments also have powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990 in respect of nuisance or hazards, such as fouling, smell and noise, caused by too many cats in a single property.

If the welfare needs of cats kept in large numbers at a single property are not met, this could constitute an offence under the Animal Welfare Act.

Pet Travel Schemes (PETS)

Under the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), cats and other animals can enter the UK without the need for quarantine, provided they meet certain requirements.

You can get more information on PETS from or by calling 0870 241 1710.
See also - Bringing your pet dog, cat or ferret to the UK -

Related topics

Cruelty and neglect - Topic

Your responsibilities - Topic

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