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Cats may be independent, but as an owner you are responsible for meeting their needs. Find out more about your duty of care in our expert guide.

Cat laws

We don’t just have a moral responsibility to take care of our cats as owners, we also have to take good care of them by law in the UK.

There are a number of laws that protect our cats from cruelty and neglect. These make sure that every cat is given the chance to live a happy and healthy life.

You can read more about laws that might affect you and your cat in our guide.

Meeting your cat’s five welfare needs

As a cat owner, you will of course want to make sure that your cat is always happy and well looked after. But there are also laws in place to make sure that all animals are protected from harm and provided with everything they need.

By law, you are responsible for meeting your cat's needs:

  • environment. You need to make sure your cat is living in the right environment for them. This means making sure they have enough resources in the right places (for example, making sure their water bowl, food bowl and litter tray are all kept separately). You can read more about making your home cat friendly in our guides
  • diet. You should feed your cat a healthy, balanced diet to make sure they’re getting all the nutrients they need and make sure they have access to fresh water every day. Read more about feeding your cat in our guides
  • behaviour. Your cat should be able to express all their natural behaviours. This might include hunting, scratching or simply having a quick cat nap. They should never be stopped from doing something that is natural to them (such as scratching), but instead offered an appropriate place to express it. Read more in our behaviour guides
  • companionship. You need to make sure your cat has suitable company either with or away from other animals. While all cats are individuals, we know that cats often prefer to be the only pet in the home, so for some cats that could mean only keeping one cat at a time with no other cats or pets, unless you have the space to do so. If you do have more than one cat or are keeping your cat with another pet, you should make sure they have all their own resources and places they can hide away where they won’t be disturbed. Download our advice leaflet on cats living together
  • health. You have a responsibility to keep your cat happy and healthy. This means protecting them from pain, suffering, injury and disease. This could be through preventative treatments, such as vaccines, or making sure to keep up with regular check-ups at the vet. You should always take your cat to the vet if they show any signs of illness or changes in their behaviour. Read our advice on finding a vet

What happens if someone doesn’t take care of their cat properly?

Failing to meet your cat’s welfare needs can be seen as animal cruelty and neglect and you could be prosecuted for this. 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.

You can find out more about cruelty and neglect, including what to do if you suspect someone of neglecting their pet, in our guide.

If you’re struggling to take care of your cat, it’s important to seek help as soon as possible so their needs can still be met. There may be lots of different reasons, such as financial or a change in circumstances, and you might even have to consider rehoming your cat if that is what’s best for them. You can find out more about what to do if you’re struggling to take care of your cat in our guide.

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