Cats and the law

19th November 2018

Cats and the law


We hear a lot about the law relating to dogs, but what about our other furry friends?

The law relating to cats has been updated in the new Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) (England) Regulations 2018 legislation and is intended to prevent cruelty and to promote and enforce the welfare of animals.

The penalties for committing an offence of cruelty or for failing to provide for an animals’ welfare needs, are an unlimited fine and or a prison sentence of up to 6 months.

The law applies to both domestic and feral cats and in addition to cruelty offences, it places an obligation on owners, as well as those in charge of or responsible for cats, (Petpals for example) to ensure that their welfare needs are met, including:

  • Providing a suitable place to live
  • Providing an appropriate diet
  • Allowing the animal to exhibit their normal behaviour
  • Protecting the animal from pain or suffering, injury or disease
  • Allowing the animal to be appropriately housed with or apart from others (as applicable)

There is no one “perfect” way to care for all cats because every cat and every situation is different, but they all have the same needs. It is up to owners to find out what their cats’ precise needs are and how to meet them.

Cat sleeping arrangements

Cats must be provided with a safe, comfortable, dry, draught-free, clean and quiet place where it can rest undisturbed. Ideally, there should be a range of places available and the cat will choose where it is most comfortable. All reasonable steps must be taken to protect them from hazards ensuring there is access to safe hiding places such as a shelf, top of wardrobe or behind furniture. Indoor cats should have plenty of activities to do and enough space to exercise, climb and play.

Litter Trays

They must have a suitable toilet area that is quiet, easily accessible, kept clean and located away from their food and water bowls. The rule of thumb is one litter tray per cat plus one.

Transporting a Cat

Before moving a cat, they should be made familiar and at ease with their carrier by putting items such as its blanket inside and leaving the door open so they can come and go. The same goes if you move house, for example, as this helps them feel at ease. Cats should not be routinely caged but any cage must be large enough for it to be able to move around.

Outdoor Cats

Cats that live outdoors need access to a safe shelter and a source of food and water.

Food and Water for Cats

Cats must have access to fresh drinking water, preferably located away from their food and given a balanced diet suitable for their individual needs (seek professional advice if necessary). They should not be allowed to become underweight or overweight. Cats need to be fed every day, preferably splitting the daily ration into several small meals throughout the day, unless advised otherwise by a vet. Changes to a cat’s diet should be made gradually and you should be aware that any change in the amount your cat eats or drinks may be a sign of physical health or stress in which case a vet should be consulted.

Behavioural needs of a cat

Cats must have sufficient mental, social and physical stimulation to satisfy its individual behavioural needs and be provided with safe toys and regular opportunities to play alone and with people. Indoor cats should have suitable resources to keep it stimulated and active with high places to rest, toys and a sturdy scratching post. Make sure that the cat can reach all the things that it needs (e.g. bed, food, water, litter or outdoors via a cat flap) without having to get too close to things, people or other animals that may frighten it. Get to know how your cat behaves when fit, healthy and happy and be able to recognise and interpret your cat’s body language, for example; tail up and quivering – happy to see you, tail up and fluffed-up – look out!

Positive reward-based training

Never shout at or punish your cat, it serves no purpose as it won’t understand and will only become more nervous or scared undermining the bond between cat and human. You should only use positive reward-based training, such as food, toys and praise and avoid harsh, potentially painful, training methods.

Keeping Multiple Cats

Most cats like people and appreciate regular contact with them even when their owners are away. However they are naturally solitary creatures so before getting more, think carefully how the resident cat will respond to company and seek advice about how to best introduce the new cat into the home. If you have cats that are not friends, make sure they have the opportunity to avoid each other and that they can access everything they need (e.g. food, water, outside space, litter tray, rest area) without having to pass one another too closely. Don’t force your cat to interact with people or other animals if they do not want to and make sure they can avoid them. In multi-cat households make sufficient resources available (e.g. toys, beds, litter trays and hiding places) and enough space for them to avoid each other if they want to.

Leaving your Cat

When planning work trips or holidays book your local Petpals. Never leave them unsupervised with another animal or person who may harm or frighten them and ensure that they are handled properly and are not stressed or put in harm’s way. If any behavioural problems or changes are of concern, always seek veterinary advice.

Keeping a Cat Healthy

Cats should be checked for signs of parasites such as fleas, injury or illness regularly and should receive a veterinary health check at least annually. Advice should be sought about regular preventative health care such as vaccinations, neutering and treatments against fleas and worms. Medicines should only be given to the cat they have been prescribed for and human products and medicines can be dangerous or even fatal.

Grooming a Cat

Not all cats require (or like) being groomed, but with some breeds such as Persians its necessary due to the nature of their fur. Older cats sometimes have difficulty grooming themselves properly and might need some help.

Microchipping a Cat

Cats must be microchipped and the details kept up to date. Collars, if used, should fit properly and have a quick-release mechanism.

The Law on Cat Ownership

Cats are now regarded in law as the ‘property’ of their owner and the theft of a cat is treated as an offence.

A lost cat or one that has strayed is usually considered the property of its original owner, so in the case of a cat that is rehomed, it is important to update the microchip records.

If a person deliberately kills or injures a cat belonging to another person an offence will have been committed.

Most people probably think that cats have ‘a right to roam’ wherever they wish, unlike dog owners who have legal responsibilities to ensure that their dogs are kept under control. The law recognises the fact that cats, by their very nature, are less likely to cause injury to people or damage to property in the same way that dogs (or livestock) might. Cat owners do however have a general duty of care to ensure their pets do not cause injury or damage.

If a member of the public suspects animal cruelty or neglect the RSPCA is probably the best organisation to contact in the first instance. Their 24 hour cruelty line is 0300 1234 999 (England and Wales only, there are different numbers for Scotland and NI). They will ask for of what you have seen or heard. RSPCA can request local authority or police assistance when necessary.

Too many cats?

If a large number of cats are kept in a house, the local authority environmental health department can become involved in relation to a potential breach of the welfare element of the Act in respect of nuisance, smell or noise as an offence may have been caused.

ENDS                                                                                                     NOVEMBER 2018


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