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Cats are protected from harm by law and there are a number of things that owners need to be aware of. Find out more about protecting cats from cruelty and neglect in our guide.

Protecting cats from cruelty and neglect

Cats are protected from harm by law, and owners have a duty to meet their needs. If these needs aren’t being met, then by law this could be seen as cruelty and neglect.

As owners, it’s our job to make sure our cats are happy and healthy at all times. If there’s something wrong with our cat then we need to work towards making it better, be this a change in the home environment or a visit to the vet for a checkup.

Whether you own a cat or not, if you see another cat suffering from cruelty and neglect you should take steps to help the cat in need.

What constitutes cruelty and neglect?

The Animal Welfare Act is designed to prevent animal cruelty and create an obligation for owners to meet their pet's five welfare needs:

  • for a suitable environment
  • for a suitable diet
  • to exhibit normal behaviours
  • to be housed with, or apart from, other animals
  • to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease

If an owner is failing to meet any one of these needs, it could be seen as animal cruelty. This law applies to feral cats too. So, if anyone prevents a feral cat from being able to meet their five welfare needs, they could be prosecuted.

For more information on meeting your cat’s welfare needs, visit our help and advice pages.

What to do if you suspect cruelty or neglect

While Cats Protection is the UK’s leading cat welfare charity, we are primarily a rescue and rehoming organisation and do not carry out private prosecutions.

  • If you are concerned about a cat you should call the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) 24-hour cruelty line (England and Wales only) on 0300 1234 999
  • 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

Penalties for animal cruelty and neglect

Animal cruelty is not acceptable and is a criminal offence. 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.

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