Looking after pets
If you own a pet, it’s important you look after it properly.
This page tells you what your responsibilities are and where to get help if you need it.
Responsibilities of owning a pet
When you own a pet, you have a legal duty to look after and care for it. You must make sure it:-
- has a proper diet, including fresh water
- has somewhere suitable to live
- is exercised appropriately for its needs
- is kept with or away from other animals, depending on its needs
- is allowed to express itself and behave normally
- is protected from, and treated for, illness and injury.
If you don’t look after a pet properly you could be fined, sent to jail or banned from owning animals.
You can get advice about diet and exercise from the person or shop that you bought the animal from or from the SSPCA.
The Scottish Government publishes animal welfare codes that provide detailed advice and guidance to help you look after your dog, cat or horse/donkey/pony. These codes can be found on the Animal Welfare section of the SSPCA website at www.scottishspca.org.
Microchipping of dogs
From 6 April 2016, all dogs over 8 weeks old in Scotland must have an identity microchip, unless a vet has stated that the dog is unfit to be microchipped due to health problems. Compulsory microchipping aims to safeguard dog welfare and also promote responsible ownership. Dog owners must register their details in a database and keep this information up to date. Failure to do so may result in the dog being microchipped at the owner's expense and/or a fine being imposed.
Caring for a pet involves getting help from a vet from time to time, for example, for routine health checks or because the animal has had an accident or is ill. There are many pet health care schemes which can save you a lot of money on vets’ bills if your pet becomes ill.
If you are on a low income, you may be able to get help with health care from the local People’s Dispensory for Sick Animals (PDSA).
There is useful information about choosing and finding pet insurance from the Moneysavingexpert website at www.moneysavingexpert.com.
Finding a vet
All vets must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. This is the professional body responsible for vet registration and the standards, ethics and discipline of the vet profession.
You can search for a registered vet on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website at www.rcvs.org.uk.
Most telephone directories list the names and addresses of local vets. Pet shops may also be able to give you information about vets.
If you are unhappy with the service that has been provided by a vet, there are steps you can take.
If you are on a low income
If you can't afford vets’ charges, you might be able to get help from an animal welfare organisation like the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).
Help looking after your pet
There may be times when you are temporarily unable to look after your pet. For example, if you are ill, going into hospital, escaping domestic abuse or are homeless. If there is no-one you can ask to look after your pet for you, there are a number of charities that may be able to help. You could also ask your vet for advice.
If you are admitted to hospital or placed in a local authority residential care or nursing home, your local authority has a duty to take care of your pet, although you may have to pay for any costs of temporary shelter for your pet.
The Pet Fostering Service Scotland (PFSS)
Tel: 0844 811 9909 (9.00 am to 7.00 pm daily)
The Pet Fostering Service Scotland (PFSS) can help with emergency short term care of a pet for anyone who is temporarily unable to look after their pet due to ill health, homelessness or domestic abuse. If you are in this situation and can’t afford boarding fees or any other care for your pet, the PFSS will try to help. The service relies on volunteers who have been through an assessment process to look after the pet in their own home.
Tel: 01736 757 900
The Cinnamon Trust has a network of volunteers to provide help such as walking a dog for an owner who can no longer do so. It offers a pet fostering service for a pet whose owner goes into hospital, and also provides long term care for a pet whose owner has died or moved into accommodation that does not accept pets. The Trust maintains a register of pet-friendly care homes and sheltered housing schemes.
Dog walking services
Sometimes you might need to use a dog walking service because your circumstances change. Most dog walking services are run as commercial businesses. Dog walkers must observe the law on dog fouling and keeping control of a dog. In some local authority areas there may be more regulations about where the dog can be walked and how many can be walked at one time. Check your local authority for any local regulations about dog walking services.
When you can permanently no longer look after your pet
If your circumstances change and you are no longer able to look after your pet, it is an offence to abandon an animal and you could be jailed or fined if you do so. If there is no-one you can ask to take over the care of your pet, the following charities offer specialist re-homing services.
Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
Animal helpline: 0300 099 9999
The SSPCA is Scotland’s animal welfare charity. If you are no longer able to look after your pet, it may be able to help find your pet a new home through its specialist re-homing service.
Tel: 0300 777 1897
Blue Cross offers a Home Direct Scheme which re-homes pets directly from one home to another. It also operates the Pets into Care Scheme for people who are worried that their pet will outlive them.
Worried about your pet outliving you
You may be worried about what will happen to your pet if it outlives you. If you feel that there’s no-one you can ask to help take on the care of your pet if you die first, the Pets in Care Scheme run by Blue Cross may be able to help. This involves you registering your pet, free of charge.
There is more about the Pets in Care Scheme on the Blue Cross website at www.bluecross.org.uk.
Travelling with pets
If you are going abroad, you may be able to take your pet with you. The country you are visiting will have its own rules about quarantine and vaccinations. To find out more, you should contact the country’s embassy or consulate or you can contact the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS) for advice.
Contact details of embassies and consulates in the UK are available on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website at www.gov.uk.
You can bring your pet into the UK from any country without it having to be quarantined, as long as the country of origin abides by the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS).
You must have a horse passport for every horse (or other equine animal, for example a pony or donkey) that you own. You must have the passport by the 31 December of the year of its birth or six months after it was born, whichever is the later date. If you are selling or destroying a foal you might have to get the passport earlier than this.
You have to have the passport with the horse whenever it travels. This could be to the vet, competitions or to sell it.
You can get a copy of the guidance on horse passports and where to get them in Scotland from the animal health and welfare pages of the agricultural section of the Scottish Government website at www.gov.scot.
Making sure your pet is looked after while you are away
You’ll need to make sure your pet is looked after if you go away, for example on holiday or to hospital for a long time. If a family member, neighbour or friend can’t help look after your cat or dog, you could contact a local kennel or cattery. It may also be possible to use the services of a pet minder who will look after your pet in your own home while you are away. You should be able to find details of these in your local telephone directory, or ask your vet.
You need a licence to keep an animal that may cause injury or damage, for example, a poisonous snake or alligator. You can get a licence for the animal from the local authority environmental health department. It can refuse to give you one if it doesn’t think you are capable of controlling the animal or you are not providing suitable accommodation that is escape-proof.
It is an offence for any dog to be out of control in any place. If you keep a dog to protect your home you do not have to put up a warning notice about it but if the dog attacks someone you could be prosecuted for having a dangerous animal. A court can order a dog to be muzzled, kept on a lead or destroyed.
The local authority can issue you with a Dog Control Notice if your dog is out of control. The Dog Control Notice can have conditions that have to be met. If your dog injures someone a claim can be made against you for compensation even if you are not prosecuted.
If you have a trained guard dog protecting business premises there should be clear notices warning that guard dogs are on the premises and the dog should be under the control of a dog handler or securely tethered.
Other useful information
The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA)
The PDSA charity provides free veterinary treatment for animals whose owners are on a low income. You must be claiming housing benefit or council tax benefit to use its services.
The PDSA provides general treatment for sick animals. However, it does not vaccinate animals, neuter cats and dogs, offer home visits or offer transport to its surgeries.
People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA)
Helpline: 0800 731 2502 (Monday to Friday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm)
Tel: 01952 290 999
Bluecross guides for looking after your pets - from hamsters to horses!