cats and the law uk

As a nation of cat lovers we may, at some point in our lives, be faced with a catty conundrum which may require legal advice regarding our cats and the law uk.

The advice below was referenced from The Cat Group web site which has a free downloadable PDF for anyone to read. The report, Cats and the Law was researched for International Cat Care (iCatCare) (formerly the Feline Advisory Bureau (FAB)). The Cat Group is a collection of professional organisations dedicated to feline welfare through the development and promotion of policies and recommendations on the care and keeping of all cats. I have copied and pasted some relevant sections and FAQ’s from this PDF to help you along the way. The authors are Dr Angus Nurse and Diane Ryland who both work in law. An article on cats and the law uk was also printed in the March issue of Your Cat Magazine – the best magazine on cat related issues in the UK.

Damage to persons and property

Cat owners or responsible persons must ensure that their cat’s needs are met. In doing so they need to also understand the specific characteristics of their cat, for example whether it is likely to be defensively aggressive and/or territorially aggressive to people or other cats, or has a tendency to scratch and destroy furniture. Owners are responsible for ‘severe’ damage which includes damage to property, including other animals such as neighbours’ cats, but which also potentially includes death or injury to anybody which is caused by their cat; this includes contracting a disease from a cat or suffering other physical harm (for example severe scratches) or mental harm. The law recognises that some individual cats are prone to cause damage and some are prone to display defensive aggression or territorially aggressive tendencies which could make them dangerous. Where this is the case, owners are more responsible for the damage that their companions cause, so that an owner of an aggressive cat needs to take steps to prevent it from escaping Cat owners are generally not responsible for the ‘normal’ behaviour of cats because the law accepts that cats tend to wander into other properties and have instincts which, for example, lead them to prey on small birds. accredited-cat-behaviour-expert-UKSo cat owners should be reassured that the simple fact of their cat trespassing onto a neighbour’s land would not make them responsible if, for example, the cat kills a pigeon or garden bird, urinates on plants or flowers, or defecates in a neighbour’s soil. These would be ‘normal’ cat behaviours that would be expected and, while some neighbours may have strong feelings about the presence of a cat in their garden, the law of trespass and the general civil law would make it unlikely that a claim against a cat owner could be made for these everyday occurrences. and damaging neighbouring property or attacking neighbouring cats or humans. If an owner knows that their cat is dangerous; its aggressive nature is unusual for a domestic cat and the owner (and others) know that if the cat escapes it is likely to cause that damage, then the owner is potentially liable for any such damage (see the frequently asked questions section at the end of this guide). As a result, owners of unusually aggressive or destructive cats are especially advised to control their companions otherwise they may find themselves having to pay for the costs of any damage caused by their cat. Owners should also be aware that if the cat escapes and becomes a stray they remain responsible for any damage the cat causes until it acquires a new owner or keeper. As a result, abandoning an overly aggressive cat does not automatically prevent the owner from having to meet the costs of any damage the cat causes until it finds a new owner and the owner may commit an offence of failing to ensure the cat’s welfare by causing unnecessary suffering.

cats and the law uk

General damage

Cat owners are generally not responsible for the ‘normal’ behaviour of cats because the law accepts that cats tend to wander into other properties and have instincts which, for example, lead them to prey on small birds. So cat owners should be reassured that the simple fact of their cat trespassing onto a neighbour’s land would not make them responsible if, for example, the cat kills a pigeon or garden bird, urinates on plants or flowers, or defecates in a neighbour’s soil. These would be ‘normal’ cat behaviours that would be expected and, while some neighbours may have strong feelings about the presence of a cat in their garden, the law of trespass and the general civil law would make it unlikely that a claim against a cat owner could be made for these everyday occurrences.

Car accidents

In the case of a vehicle accident with a cat, the normal criminal offence of failure to stop and give details or report an incident to the police does not apply to incidences which only cause injury to cats, ie, where there has been a collision between a vehicle and a cat. Cat owners may have questions about whether they would be responsible for damage if their companion strayed into the road and caused an accident or injury to others. While in principle the owner of an animal which strayed onto a road, footpath, main road or motorway would be responsible for any damage or injury, the law – which generally covers animals likely to stray such as horses, cows and sheep, but which would apply to dogs, or even to cats, – is unlikely to make cat owners liable. cats and the law UKThe nature of cats as companions that cannot realistically be fenced in is a factor, but it is also true that cats generally will not cause the same kind of severe harm in the same manner as dogs. Except in extreme circumstances, where it could be argued that the likelihood of an accident could be predicted and the owner owed a duty of care to drivers yet did nothing to prevent the accident, it is difficult to see how a cat owner would be liable for a road accident caused by their companion (see frequently asked questions later in this guide).

cats and the law uk

Nuisance cats

qualified-animal-behaviourist-LondonThe law on nuisance is intended to deal with circumstances that affect enjoyment of a property. Noise, smell, dust and other forms of pollution can all be classed as a nuisance in respect of which local authorities are able to take enforcement action. This can be a complex area of law but, essentially, the law defines certain activities, those that can cause harm to health or represent an ‘unacceptable interference’ with the personal comfort and surroundings of neighbours or the nearby community, as a nuisance. The law uses the term ‘amenity’ to explain how the nuisance law impacts on people; this is an umbrella term for features that are pleasant or agreeable, such as a garden. So a smell that prevents neighbours from spending time in their garden during the summer could be a nuisance. The garden is an amenity and for many is an integral part of their home, so a smell that makes it unpleasant to be out in the garden could represent an ‘unacceptable interference’ with that amenity. Local authorities are required to investigate and detect any statutory nuisances occurring in their area and have wide ranging powers to deal with these. Several parts of nuisance law apply to cats. For example, keeping animals in conditions which cause nuisance to others or which are likely to cause health problems would be a nuisance. This area of the law is intended to deal with ‘extraordinary, non-natural or unreasonable action’ so general noise of cats (even cats fighting at night) wouldn’t cause this problem. However, where the living conditions of companion animals cause excessive smell, noise or flies this could be a nuisance. If, for example, a large number of cats were kept in a small flat and the number of animals combined with keeping them in poor conditions caused excessive smell (eg, by not emptying litter trays nor allowing them outside so that a smell of urine builds up) then this could become a nuisance. In such a case a local authority could impose restrictions on the number of animals kept. There is a case example of large numbers of cats being kept and allowed to stray with the result that an excessive amount of excrement was deposited on neighbouring property, and this caused a nuisance. While, as mentioned above, the law accepts that cats have a tendency to wander about and defecate where they please, in this example the specific combination of the number of cats, the nature of the property, and the lack of effective control over the cats meant that their presence and behaviour became a nuisance to the neighbouring property. While the above example is probably not an everyday occurrence, where a nuisance is caused, the law (the Environmental Protection Act 1990) gives a local authority the power to decide what action cat owners should reasonably be required to take in order to deal with a nuisance. The courts have decided that in the case of a business (such as a commercial breeder of cats) they should use the ‘best practicable’ means to deal with a nuisance. This means that action can be taken to reduce a nuisance (such as putting up a fence in an attempt to prevent cats from escaping into a neighbouring property). It does not mean that the nuisance would have to be completely eliminated, for example by getting rid of all cats or relocating a busines

Cat theft and injury to our felines

The law recognises cats as property, so that when somebody steals a cat from its owner this would be theft under the Theft Act 1968. Those involved in taking a cat might also be charged with handling stolen goods or obtaining property by deception. If money or favours are demanded for the return of a stolen cat this could be classed as bribery. Neither should the cat’s lawful owner advertise a reward stating that no questions will be asked for information leading to the return of the cat, which in itself is an offence. If a cat is stolen, owners should call the police as the illegal removal of their companion should be treated the same as any other theft. The potential difficulty with cat theft is proving that somebody has deliberately removed a companion. A cat, may, for example, seek food from several homes or simply find comfort in another home without the new ‘owner’ having done anything that would make their adoption of the cat theft or of having any idea of who the ‘rightful’ owner was. Having some clear means of identifying a cat as belonging to a particular home is vital if a complaint of theft is to be pursued. The criminal law also covers harm caused to a cat by a third party (somebody other than the owner). The law makes it an offence to kill or injure companion animals (see definition at page 5) so that if a person harmed or killed a cat belonging to another they could be prosecuted. Ownership of the animal does not have to be proved as the law recognises domestic cats as protected animals. So, in the event of the death or injury of a cat caused by a third party (even where ownership of the animal cannot be established) the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) may consider a charge of criminal damage, although there are sometimes difficulties with having enough evidence to prosecute these cases. In addition causing unnecessary suffering to another’s cat is a crime under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 so that animal abuse cases (eg, kicking, burning, placing cats in rubbish bins) can be prosecuted under the criminal law.

cats and the law uk

cat legal advice



The following list consists of those questions currently identified as causing problems for cat owners and breeders, either because there does not seem to be a definitive answer to the question or because the question raises an issue falling outside the experience of the breeder or owner. Questions also relate to areas where, previously, guidance has not been available for owners and breeders. Where several queries have been received concerning the same topic we have combined these into single questions to deal with the main issue causing concern.


I run a cattery and have had a cat in care for several years which was taken out of the cattery for a few weeks but then returned while the owners were moving house. The owners have paid part of their bill but still owe several thousand pounds. We have given them every opportunity to pay, even initially discounting the bill, but we are unable to get the owners to pay despite several efforts to obtain payment. We have several people who use the cattery who would be willing to rehome the cat and we’re now querying whether we are able to rehome it?


This seemingly common question concerns whether animals left in a cattery by owners, who appear not to want the animal returned, can be re-homed and what mechanisms are open to chase the owners for unpaid bills. There is an issue of ownership of the animal where an owner appears to have given-up ownership. First, the cattery has to take all reasonable steps to locate the cat’s owners and pursue the outstanding fees. If the owners can be located, fees under £5,000 can generally be pursued through the small claims court which does not require lawyers, just the court document fee and submitting evidence for the court to consider. Part of the process involves notifying the third party of the claim against them and this could include notifying the owner that, as part of the settlement of the claim, they may wish to formally relinquish their ownership so that the cat can be rehomed if they no longer wish to be owners and are unable or unwilling to meet the cattery’s fees. The notification could suggest a time limit in which the owner must provide some sort of undertaking in respect of future fees otherwise court action will be pursued. Should the matter go to court, even as a small claim, the court can be requested to look at the evidence as to whether the owners have undertaken to relinquish ownership. If the owners cannot be located, the issue of fees cannot be resolved. It could be argued that the cat has been abandoned due to a lack of responsible ownership by the cat’s owners. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Code of Practice for Cats make mention of the person responsible for the cat. Where the owners have effectively defaulted on their financial obligations and the cattery has assumed care, then the cattery has become the responsible person. However, under the law, formal ownership would rest with the first owners for a limited period of 6 years, after which time the cat could then be owned by another.


Who is the owner of a stray cat taken to a rehoming institution by a member of the public concerned to find it wandering the streets for days and nights on end? After having had ‘Millie’ microchipped, neutered and vaccinated, the rehoming institution secured a loving home for Millie within 14 days. Millie’s original owner reappeared after 21 days on holiday, having gone on holiday seemingly for 7 days and having left some food for their cat for this shorter period but no additional human contact.


Cats are property and so a person finding a stray cat and feeding and taking care of it essentially becomes responsible for it and is also obliged to take reasonable steps to find the owner and make them aware of the cat’s location. However, the finder of a stray is also its keeper and its temporary owner unless or until the ‘proper’ owner demands its return. In this example, if the rehoming institution had taken reasonable steps to trace Millie’s owner (which would have been difficult given the fact that Millie was not originally microchipped and had no collar) and if the organisation clearly sells cats on the terms that it owns them, then based on some court decisions the rehoming institution may be Millie’s owner and, entitled to rehome her. The finder of a stray cat can become its owner if the original owner intentionally abandons it; for example by failing to provide food or care as is the case in this example. If a cat is accidentally lost but is then found, the owner can reclaim possession. Lack of responsible ownership, arguably, would be a factor taken into account by the authorities and here Millie’s original owner has effectively abandoned his cat and by failing to provide food or care for 21 days has caused unnecessary suffering under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Nevertheless, legally ownership would remain with the original owner for a term of 6 years. It is recommended good practice and a sign of responsible ownership to microchip a cat, which would help to prevent this situation arising, although would not be proof of ownership.


When a person lives next door to an aggressive cat, who is liable for any aggressive cat attacks and what options does a person have when they are suffering from cat attacks and aggressive behaviour that either cause stress and harm to neighbouring cats or, in extreme cases, where the aggressive cat scratches humans or causes property damage?


This question has been raised in relation to what seems to be the systematic behaviour of some Bengal cats that attack other cats, sometimes even entering into the neighbour’s home to do so. But it also applies to other territorial cats that are unusually defensively aggressive towards other cats in the area. Extreme cat behaviour could be dealt with as nuisance behaviour, although for simple keeping of animals to be classed as a nuisance some ‘extraordinary, nonnatural or unreasonable action’ is required. As mentioned earlier in this guide the law specifies nuisance as being ‘the unacceptable interference with the personal comfort or amenity of neighbours or the nearby community’. A civil trespass action would be unlikely to succeed for cats entering into property and causing damage, but abnormally aggressive cat behaviour that results in property damage (including damage to the resident cat) or harm to children could be the subject of enforcement action. The local authority could serve an abatement notice forcing the owners to take steps to prevent the nuisance being caused by their cat. Failure to comply with this notice is a criminal offence. There would also be the potential to take legal action for negligence against the cat’s owner, who owes a duty of care to his neighbour not to cause harm which is foreseeable. This applies to any harm which the owner knew or ought to have known his cat would be likely to cause. Additionally, if the owner knew that his cat was inclined to cause damage and had done so in the past then potentially he is responsible for the cat’s damage whether or not it could be predicted in these circumstances. It would be advisable, therefore, to inform the owner of an abnormally aggressive cat as the law, in this instance, requires prior knowledge on the part of the cat owner. (Separate from the legal issues and subject to appropriate cover being in place, there may also be potential to pursue a claim against a cat owner via their cat insurance. The parties involved would need to seek advice on this possibility.)


Who is liable for road traffic accidents caused by cats? For example, if a driver is forced to swerve his car to avoid a cat, does the cat owner have any liability for the accident and any damage caused?


This is a potentially complex question which rests on a) whether an owner is responsible for the actions of his cat to the extent that he is responsible for the damage that happens in an accident caused by his cat; and b) whether the cat owner has a duty of care to road users and whether there was a breach of that duty. While in theory you could argue, for example, that a cat owner who is aware that his cat may run over or cross the road, thus presenting a danger to motorists, is liable for the accident if he fails to act to prevent such action, in practice it’s unlikely that cat owners have this level of duty of care. Generally where a person has a duty of care they are only required to take such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances, and cats are exempt from trespass rules. Although a cat owner who knows his cat routinely runs across the road and does nothing to prevent it potentially owes a duty of care where there is a likelihood of an accident being caused (eg, busy street, road near a school with high traffic), this does not impose an obligation or liability on all cat owners. It should be added that the Animal Welfare Act 2006 provides an increased obligation to understand the needs and behaviours of the individual cat and to consider the interior and exterior environment. A greater number of cat owners living in busy urban streets should now heed the requirements under the Code to consider the behaviour of the individual cat, which would also require considering the implications of keeping a cat indoors all the time. Generally, a cat owner would not be responsible for damages in road traffic accidents caused by their cat.


We are fed up with cats coming into our garden. We have tried shouting at them and now want to try some form of proper cat repellent. Are these legal?


Generally, legally marketed cat repellents which do not harm the cat, such as sonic repellents or those based on an odour unpleasant to cats, can be used. However, the use of barbed wire, bait laced foods or other poisonous chemicals that will induce vomiting or otherwise harm a cat must not be used. Using any of these products which harm or cause sickness in a cat would potentially result in unnecessary suffering being caused to cats which would be an animal welfare criminal offence. There is also a specific criminal offence of administering poison.




  • Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare (ALAW) PO Box 67933 London NW1 8RB UK Website

ALAW is a charity which brings together lawyers and legal academics with an interest and experience in animal protection law. ALAW members provide advisory services and research on effective implementation of animal protection law and developing a better legal framework for the protection of animals. ALAW also campaigns for better animal protection law and publishes the Journal of Animal Welfare Law, a legal journal dedicated to animal welfare topics.

Battersea Dogs and Cats Home is a rescue and rehoming centre for dogs and cats which have been abandoned. The animal welfare organisation also reunites lost dogs and cats with their owners through its Lost Dogs and Cats Line or cares for them until new homes can be found.

The Blue Cross is an animal welfare charity which finds homes for unwanted cats, dogs, small pets and horses across the UK. The Blue Cross also has animal hospitals, an animal adoption service and an animal education service.

  • British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA) Woodrow House, 1 Telford Way Waterwells Business Park Quedgeley Gloucester GL2 2AB UK Website

The BSAVA is a professional body which serves veterinary surgeons who treat companion animals. It does not deal with enquiries from members of the general public but publishes extensively on veterinary medicine and organises professional training for its member veterinary surgeons.

  • Catnips – specialised grooming and behaviour services Website

A service that dedicates its time to working with aggressive cats during grooming and helping clients with difficult or challenging cats. Based in Notting Hill, London.

  • Cats Protection National Cat Centre Chelwood Gate Haywards Heath Sussex RH17 7TT UK Website

Cats Protection is a feline welfare charity with a network of over 260 volunteer-run branches, 29 adoption centres and one homing centre. The charity provides a homing service, a neutering service and publishes information to improve people’s understanding of cats and their care.

  • Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) Nobel House 17 Smith Square London SW1P 3JR UK Website

DEFRA is the UK government department with responsibility for environmental issues, including: animal welfare, climate change, wildlife crime, sustainable development and rural communities. DEFRA published the Code of Practice on the Welfare of Cats and has responsibility for Government policy on animal welfare. DEFRA is also responsible for the Partnership for Action on Wildlife Crime (PAW), the body that co-ordinates UK wildlife crime policy via a partnership between government and NGOS.

  • Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) 5 King’s Castle Business Park The Drove, Bridgewater Somerset TA6 4AG UK Website

The GCCF is the governing body of the Cat Fancy in the UK and premier registration body for pedigree cats.

  • International Cat Care (iCatCare) High Street Tisbury Wiltshire SP3 6LD UK Website

International Cat Care is the only charity that deals with all aspects of cat health and welfare internationally. It has worked for over 50 years to raise the standard of treatment and care provided to cats by vets, breeders, boarding cattery proprietors, rescue facilities and owners by providing the best possible practical solutions for improving the welfare of unowned cats.

  • People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) Whitechapel Way, Priorslee Telford Shropshire TF2 9PQ UK Website

The PDSA is a veterinary charity providing veterinary care services and pet health advice.

  • The Mayhew Animal Home Trenmar Gardens Kensal Green London NW10 6BJ UK Website

The Mayhew Animal Home is a rescue and rehoming centre based in London. It also delivers a number of community based outreach programmes including TNR, education and collaboration with other organisations.

  • The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) Wilberforce Way Southwater Horsham West Sussex RH13 9RS UK Website

A UK-based charity that works to prevent cruelty to, the causing of unnecessary suffering to and the neglect of animals in England and Wales. A uniformed Inspectorate investigates cruelty offences, while a plain-clothes and undercover unit called the Special Operations Unit (SOU) deals with more serious offences and lowlevel organised animal crime.

  • The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) Kingseat Road Halbeath Dunfermline KY11 8RY UK Website

The Scottish counterpart to the RSPCA, the SSPCA works to prevent cruelty to, the causing of unnecessary suffering to, and the neglect of, animals in Scotland.

  • Wood Green – the Animals Charity King’s Bush Farm London Road Godmanchester Cambridgeshire PE29 2NH UK Website

Wood Green is an animal welfare charity providing animal rehoming, veterinary and animal welfare advice services.