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How to report animal cruelty

This advice applies to Scotland

What is animal cruelty

Anyone responsible for an animal has a legal duty to ensure that its needs are met. It's a criminal offence not to meet an animal’s welfare needs or fail to protect an animal from unnecessary suffering. For example, not providing a suitable diet or poor living conditions, or hurting an animal deliberately.

Check the welfare codes of practice on the Scottish Government website for cats , dogs and horses  and the welfare guidance for rabbits for information on how to meet the welfare needs of these animals. 

In Scotland it's also illegal, and may be a criminal offence, to:

  • dock a dogs tail - except working spaniels or hunt point retriever puppies if they're under 5 days old 
  • participate in an animal fight, for example between dogs or cocks
  • offer live animals as prizes - except if one family member gives a relative a live pet
  • operate on an animal without due care and humanity
  • use an animal in an experiment which causes pain
  • abandon an animal

Which animals are protected

All vertebrate animals looked after by people are protected in law from cruelty. Spiders and insects, including tarantulas and stick insects, aren't protected. Certain insects may be protected by the law to protect wildlife.

It doesn't matter where the animal is, for example it could be a person's home, a pet shop, a market, circus, a kennel or cattery. 

How to report it

Contact one or more of the following:

Find your local council's contact details by searching GOV.UK

What happens when you report possible cruelty

The police and inspectors from the council and the SSPCA can apply for a warrant to search a home if animal cruelty is suspected but the occupier refuses to let them in. 

A warrant isn't normally needed to search business premises.

The case will be investigated and the welfare of the animal and their living conditions assessed. 

Police and inspectors can remove an animal and take them to a place of safety. In most cases an inspector gets the owner’s consent before they do this. The police have the power to request a vet to put down any animal which they find so ill or injured that moving it would be cruel, whether or not the owner of the animal consents to this.

Depending on the circumstances of the case an inspector might:

  • persuade or educate the person responsible for the animal to look after the animal properly
  • give them a care notice - stating what the person is failing to do and giving them a period of time to take action to improve the animal’s welfare
  • start criminal prosecution proceedings by reporting the case to the Procurator Fiscal

If they don't follow a care notice properly they're likely to be charged with an offence and prosecuted. Their name may also be added to a database of people convicted of animal cruelty.

Criminal penalties for animal cruelty

If someone is prosecuted and found guilty of serious neglect or cruelty of an animal or animal fighting they can be jailed for up to 12 months, fined up to £20,000, or both.

If someone is convicted of failing in their duty of care, abandonment or other offences of neglect of an animal they can be jailed for up to six months, fined up to £5,000, or both.

The court can make a number of orders to restrict their contact with animals, such as:

  • a deprivation order - to take the animal away and stop them owning it. It may also stipulate that the animal is to be sold or destroyed
  • a disqualification order - stops them owning or working with animals

If someone is disqualified from owning an animal in England and Wales they will also be disqualified in Scotland. If they breach the order they can be imprisoned for up to 6 months or fined by a Scottish court.

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