Legal pet ownership obligations

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 sets the UK ground rules for pet ownership and responsibility. Any pet owner is responsible to provide any animal with the 5 freedoms. These are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease
  • Freedom to express natural behaviour.
  • Freedom from fear and distress

These freedoms remain the same but are achieved in different ways, for example, you would not feed the same thing to both a cat and a rabbit and their natural behaviour is very different for each species. All of these should be considered when any animal is cared for by anyone as it is the owners responsibility to make sure they are providing appropriate care for their animal.

Microchipping is compulsory for dog ownership but it is not a legal requirement for other species in the UK. At the rescue centre we get many cats bought to us as strays but in fact several of them are likely owned, lost, cats that are not microchipped and have lost their collar. We would highly recommend getting your cat microchipped even though it is not yet the law to do so. Other species of animals can also be microchipped, including rabbits. In the past we have had stray rabbits come in to the rescue centre, which if they were microchipped they potentially could have been reunited with owners. Although microchipping is not proof of ownership it may help the rightful owner get their cat back if their cat had gone missing or been stolen.  Microchipping is inexpensive, quick to do and only as uncomfortable as an injection when inserted. It should be unnoticeable once in place.  The only time a microchip is a legal requirement for a cat is when travelling abroad as they will need a passport.

It is our policy that we do not neuter, vaccinate or rehome strays for seven days. We will care for them and provide veterinary treatment if there is a welfare issue. A lost or stray cat is legally the property of the ordinal owner, which if the animal is microchipped they could be reunited or used to help prove ownership. Efforts should be made by the rescue centre, vets or individual that has found the animal to try and get the pet back to their owners. After 7 days we will make efforts to neuter, vaccinate and rehome the animal but if their original owner does come forward it is likely that the animal would have to be returned to the original owner.

If you have concerns about the welfare of a cat, rabbit or guinea pig please contact CRRC or the RSPCA.