Legal experts reveal laws that all pet owners need to know

In 2018, the UK population was an estimated 5.1 million, which means around 45% of British homes housed a domesticated animal.

Owning a pet is a huge responsibility and can bring happiness but it is up to n owner to ensure that the welfare of that pet is a priority.

To help ensure owners are giving their animal friends all they need, David Green, Senior Tutor at the University of Law has outlined three of the key laws and responsibilities pet owners need to know.

Pets on their travels

The government has put a variety of legislation in place to cover the welfare of our pets and prevent animal cruelty, the most important piece being the Animal Welfare Act 2006.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 is the principal animal welfare legislation and probably the most recognisable law when it comes to pet ownership. Beyond the guides and codes of practices set out in this legislation that protect pets’ basic rights, the Act also sets out rules for protecting the welfare of animals during journeys. According to the Act, all pet owners must ensure that animals are secured safely in the back seat during car journeys, with the necessary attachments. Anyone caught letting their pet ride up front, or not abiding by these rules, could face a fine up to £5,000.

Pets and licences

When purchasing a dog, it is important that you ensure the breed you buy isn’t banned in the UK. Similarly, it’s also against the law to sell, abandon, breed or give away a banned dog in the UK. If you own a banned dog, you are at risk of the police seizing the dog, even if it doesn’t pose any obvious danger. You can then be taken to court for owning the dog and can face an unlimited fine and/or be sent to prison for up to six months.

It isn’t just dogs that require that extra level of attention. Licences are required for some types of exotic animals (like snakes and spiders), as well as some domestic-wild hybrid animals (such as hybrid cats and wolfdogs). Once you’ve purchased the animal it immediately becomes your responsibility, so it’s always best to do your research and check with your local council if unsure.

Pets behaving badly

Pets are legally considered as ‘property’ so owners of cats, dogs and any other animal for that matter enjoy the right of legal protection if their pet is stolen, hurt or injured. Since pets are also considered your ‘property’ it also means that you are responsible for their behaviour.

Dog owners have a duty to control and supervise their pet when in a public place and manage where they can go– so if you dog causes damage to someone else’s property, it is your responsibility. This also applies to walking dogs on a lead, as it is illegal for a dog to not be on a lead near a main road, and if your dog is difficult to handle in a park or field then it is your responsibility to keep it on a lead.

Unsurprisingly cats are a little different as they have a legal ‘right to roam’, which puts a little less responsibility on the owner if they have a feisty feline. However, this does not release the cat owner from potential liability and responsibility under the law if their pet causes damage to another person or their property. So, if your cat damages a neighbour’s fence or decides to dig up their new flowerbed, it will be considered to be your fault even though you can’t control where a cat roams.

Whilst we may be aware of most of the common laws that apply to humans, The University of Law has also gathered some of the more obscure laws that govern our animal friends in the UK:

  • Daventry Council in Northamptonshire may give dog-walkers found to not be carrying a waste bag up to a £100 fine.
  • In Lancashire, it’s against the law to make a dog bark, unless instructed to do so by the police.
  • Up until 1965, allowing your dog to mate with a dog from the Royal House was an executable offence. It’s not so strict anymore, but still against the law nonetheless.
  • If you’re planning on walking your cows along the road between 10pm and 7am, think again. This is against the law according to Metropolitan Streets Act of 1867.
  • Speaking of farm animals, it’s also illegal to have a pig sty at the front of your house according to the Town Police Clauses Act 1847.