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Animal Welfare Act 2006

The Animal Welfare Act is a piece of legislation which aims to ensure that animals are not mistreated by humans, whether through improper care or sheer cruelty.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 was introduced by DEFRA to combat animal abuse and came into force in 2007. Its aim was to update the Protection of Animals Act 1911, making the law reflect 21st century practice and the developments in veterinary science.

It basically makes any individual responsible for an animal to perform a duty of care by meeting its basic needs. These good practice guidelines are published by DEFRA and include the requirements of:

  • a suitable diet
  • ensuring that the animal exhibits normal behavior patterns
  • a suitable environment
  • housing with or without other animals
  • protection from suffering, disease and injury.

Animal welfare offences

Under The Protection of Animals Act 1911 it is an offence to cause unnecessary physical or mental suffering to an animal and currently, enforcement action can only be taken to protect an animal after it has suffered. The new Act builds on the Protection of Animals Act 1911 which prevented the unnecessary physical or mental suffering, by allowing efforts to be taken to prevent an animal suffering in the future.

Other offences in the new Act include:

  • the law concerning animal fights
  • the selling, exchanging or giving a pet as a prize to a child
  • the mutilation of animals, unless it has good medical cause.

The law is enforced by various authorities, depending on the nature of the offence and what kind of animal(s) are involved. Police and local authorities, as well as the RSPCA and DEFRA, may take action on breaches of animal welfare. One possible outcome is for animal owners to be given an improvement notice. These need to be acquiesced with, or the individual can be prosecuted.


The Local Authority, police or a normal civilian can prosecute against an animal owner. This can be as much as three years after the illegal act has occurred.

The most serious crimes can lead to a fine of £20,000 and as much as 51 weeks of imprisonment. Those convicted can also be prohibited from owning or dealing with animals.

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