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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 to fail to meet an animal’s welfare needs or fail to protect an animal from unnecessary suffering. For example, this could mean giving the animal an unsuitable diet, providing 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. 

It's also illegal, and might be a criminal offence, to:

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

Which animals are protected

All vertebrates looked after by people are protected in law from cruelty. Vertebrates include mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Spiders and insects, including tarantulas and stick insects, aren't protected. Certain insects are protected by the law to protect wildlife.

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

How to report animal cruelty

Contact one or more of the following:

Find your local council on mygov.scot

What happens when you report possible cruelty

The police and inspectors from the local 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 animal's welfare and living conditions will be assessed. 

Police and inspectors can remove an animal and take it 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 ask a vet to put down any animal that they find so ill or injured that moving it would be cruel, whether or not the animal's owner agrees to this.

Depending on the circumstances, 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 the person doesn't follow a care notice properly, they're likely to be charged with an offence and prosecuted. Their name might 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 five years, fined 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 a year, fined up to £40,000 or both.

A court can make a number of orders to restrict the person's contact with animals, such as:

  • a deprivation order - to take the animal away and stop the person from owning it. The order might also require that the animal is sold or destroyed
  • a disqualification order - to stop the person from owning or working with animals.

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

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