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Animal problems

This advice applies to Scotland

This page tells you how to report cruelty to animals and what to do about nuisance, stray or dangerous animals.

Cruelty to animals

Cruelty to animals is a criminal offence which carries severe penalties of fines and imprisonment. Any action which causes unnecessary suffering, such as neglecting or abandoning an animal, is an offence. If you suspect that an animal is being neglected or treated cruelly you can contact one or more of the following:-

The police, animal health officers in the local authority or inspectors from the SSPCA can remove an animal to a place of safety even before a court decides whether or not an offence has been committed.

Banned and regulated activities

Experiments and operations on animals

It is an offence to operate on an animal without due care and humanity or to use an animal in an experiment that causes pain. 

The use of animals in lab experiments is strictly regulated and requires a licence. If you want to find out if an operation or experiment is permitted, you should contact the police or an animal welfare organisation, such as the SSPCA for advice.

It is illegal to dock the tail of most dogs in Scotland or to take a dog out of Scotland to get its tail docked. Tail docking is only allowed for spaniel or hunt point retriever puppies if they are 5 days old or less and there is evidence that they will become a working gun dog. The procedure must be carried out by a vet.


There are strict rules about how animals should be slaughtered. Exemptions can be made to allow for Jewish and Muslim methods of slaughter. Your local authority environmental health department can give you more information.

Live animals as prizes

It is an offence to offer live animals as prizes. This includes goldfish at a fun-fair or any live animal as a raffle prize.

Circus or performing animals

There are strict rules about the welfare of performing animals and some types of performance are banned.

If you think a circus act is cruel or a performing animal is being mistreated you can contact the SSPCA or the police to investigate the problem.

Organised animal fights

It is illegal to organise an animal fight, for example between dogs or cocks. It is also illegal to attend an organised fight, bet on it, allow your premises to be used for the fight or show or distribute a recording of it.

Abandoned animals

It is an offence to abandon an animal that you have responsiblitiy for and you could be jailed or fined if you do so. If you are concerned about an abandoned animal you can report this to the SSPCA or the police.

Pet shops, kennels and stables

Pet shops, kennels and stables must have a licence from the local authority and there are strict rules about the way that they should care for animals. You can report a complaint to the licensing authority, the SSPCA or the police.

Animals in markets

There are rules about the care of animals at markets, for example, a sick or injured animal must not be displayed for sale and cages or hutches must be suitable for an animal's size and type. The owner of the animal must make sure it is provided with adequate water and food while it is in the market. The rules about animal welfare at markets are enforced by the local authority. You can report any concerns about the welfare of an animal at a market to the local authority or the SSPCA.

Penalties for animal cruelty

If you are found guilty of serious neglect or cruelty of an animal or animal fighting offences you can be fined, jailed or both.

Once a court has convicted you for offences against an animal it can make a number of orders to restrict your contact with animals generally and you may be disqualified from owning or keeping animals.

Animals causing a nuisance

If an animal is causing a nuisance, the action you can take will depend on the type of problem and whether you know who is responsible for the animal or not.

If you know who owns the animal, it may be useful to contact them first to try to resolve the problem.

If you don’t know who the owner is or haven’t had any success in resolving the problems with them, you have a few choices about what to do.

Contact the local authority

The local authority environmental health department has responsibility for dealing with a lot of the problems that animals can cause, so you could contact them to see if they can help. It has particular responsibility for problems of dog fouling. It can issue a Dog Control Notice that requires the owner to keep a dog under control in any place, not just a public place.

Justice of the Peace (JP) court

If an animal is giving reasonable cause for annoyance, you can apply to the JP court for an order that will instruct the owner of the animal to stop it from causing the nuisance. If the animal has caused significant damage you can claim compensation from the owner at the same time as applying for the order. This is intended to be a simple, quick and cheap option and you can apply to the court yourself without having to use a solicitor. If you want to do this, you can contact the clerk at the JP court for further advice and guidance about how to proceed.


You could contact the police about animal problems, but they will usually only get involved if a crime has been committed, for example there has been animal cruelty, a dangerous dog is not being properly controlled, a dog is fouling public places or someone has a dangerous animal without a licence. They do have responsibility to help with lost or stray dogs.

Common animal problems

Some of the most common problems caused by animals and the action you can take to try to resolve them are listed below.

Dog fouling

It is an offence for a person in charge of a dog to fail to remove and dispose of the mess after the dog has fouled in a public place. Public places include:-

  • pavements and roads
  • common passages, closes, courts, stairs and back greens
  • children's play areas
  • pedestian precincts
  • recreational and sporting areas.

There are some exceptions to the offence. These are:-

  • a blind person who is in charge of a guide dog
  • a disabled person in charge of a dog that has been trained to assist them and the person's disability prevents them from clearing up after the dog
  • working dogs of members of the police, army or HM Revenues and Customs and working dogs being used to tend cattle or sheep. The person in charge of a working dog is only exempt from the dog fouling rules when the dog is working.

Environmental wardens from the local authority or police officers can issue fixed penalty notices to anyone who is believed to have allowed a dog to foul a public place.

Stray dogs and cats

If you find a stray dog you can report this to the local authority environment department. Alternatively you can contact the police. You will be committing an offence if you keep a stray without reporting that you have found it.

If you find a stray cat, you can report it to the SSPCA or Cats Protection.

Pests and infestations

The local authority environment department can deal with infestations of fleas and problems with mice, rats and wasp nests.

Dangerous animals

A licence is needed to keep an animal that may cause injury or damage, for example a posionous snake. You can get a licence from the local authority environment department.

Dangerous dogs

It is an offence for a dog to be out of control in any public place. The local authority can issue a Dog Control Notice if a dog is out of control. A court can order a dog to be muzzled, kept on a lead or destroyed.

Guard dogs

If you are using a dog to protect your home or agricultural land you have a responsibility to make sure it is not out of control in any place, even its own territory.

If you have guard dogs for business premises there should be clear warning notices that there are guard dogs on the premises and the dogs should be under the control of a dog handler or securely tethered.

Dogs worrying livestock

You are committing an offence if you let your dog worry livestock on any agricultural land. Worrying includes attacking or chasing in a way that might reasonably be expected to cause injury, suffering or loss. It is also an offence to have a dog in a field or enclosure where there are sheep if the dog is not on a lead or under close control.

If your dog kills or injures livestock, you may be sued for damages. You may be less liable for any damage done if the livestock strayed on to your land.

If a farmer kills or injures your dog, s/he may offer as a defence that this was done to protect the livestock.

Dog walking services

Dog walking services are often run as commercial businesses. The laws that govern such services are that the dog walkers do have to abide by the laws that relate to dog fouling and control of a dog in a public place. In addition the care provided for a dog must not breach animal protection legislation, for example, in how dogs are transported to the area they are walked in.

In some local authority areas there are codes of practice in place for dog walking services. The types of issues that are covered in the codes of practice are:

  • limit to number of dogs being walked at any one time
  • special insurance for the business
  • restrictions on where the dog walking service can go.

If you are worried about the way dogs are being handled by a professional dog walking service you can contact your local authority environmental health department. In some local authority areas there may be an approved dog walking scheme and there may be some monitoring undertaken by the local authority of such services.


A bull in itself is not defined as a dangerous animal. If a bull has behaved aggressively, it is important to consider whether, for example, the owner of the bull took reasonable care to ensure that people did not come into contact with it, whether it was fenced in, or if it was in an open field, and whether a notice was displayed.

If an individual bull is known to be dangerous or to have a fierce disposition, the owner of the bull is always liable if it attacks someone or causes injury. This means there can be no defence by the owner of the bull that s/he took reasonable care to avoid it causing injury.

It is a criminal offence punishable by a fine to keep bulls in fields through which there is a right of way, unless they are:-

  • under ten months old; and/or
  • not one of the recognised dairy breeds and are accompanied by cows or heifers.


Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
Kingseat Road
KY11 8RY

Animal helpline: 0300 099 9999

The SSPCA is a charity that exists to prevent cruelty to animals. It has a team of inspectors who can investigate claims of cruelty but also give people advice about caring for their animal. It runs a network of animal welfare centres and you can find your nearest one from the website.

Cats Protection
Helpline: 03000 12 12 12

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