Animal cruelty

Animal cruelty is an abhorrent offence which subjects animals to unnecessary pain and suffering. Sadly, animal cruelty is far too common, with the RSPCA reporting more than 93,000 complaints of alleged cruelty to animals in England and Wales in 2019 alone. We support every effort to stamp out cruelty in order to defend dog welfare and protect dogs across the world from harm.


England and Wales

In England and Wales, it is an offence to cause an animal to suffer, including failing to protect them from unnecessary pain, suffering, injury and disease under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. The legislation outlines key practices which are outlawed to protect animal health and welfare, including docking a dog’s tail, animal fighting, purposefully administering poisons, and mutilating the animal – for example, by cropping a dog’s ears.

The Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act 2021 has increased the maximum sentence for the worst animal cruelty offences from six months to five years in England and Wales. As well as a prison sentence, offenders can also receive an unlimited fine.


The Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 makes provision for the welfare of animals, including for the prevention of harm, in Scotland. Similar to legislation in England and Wales, a person commits an offence if they cause an animal unnecessary suffering, including not ensuring that the needs of an animal are adequately met. 

In Scotland, the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protections and Powers) Scotland Act 2020 determines the maximum available penalties for the worst cases of animal cruelty. This legislation also has specific provisions to protect police dogs from unnecessary suffering, a law that is otherwise known as Finn’s Law. The maximum penalty for the most serious animal welfare crimes in Scotland is five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine.

Northern Ireland

The welfare of animals in Northern Ireland is protected in law by the Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011. Under this legislation, it is an offence to fail to take reasonable steps to ensure an animal’s welfare, as well as causing an animal unnecessary suffering. Those convicted of cruelty to animals in Northern Ireland can face up to five years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine; however, sentencing is typically determined by Judiciary NI’s Sentencing Guidelines.

The Kennel Club’s position

We believe that it is vital that the health and welfare of dogs are protected. Unfortunately, animal cruelty is far too common, with many incidents going unreported and undetected. We are pleased that new legislation in England and Wales means that those being cruel towards animals across the whole of the UK can now expect to be punished with the full force of the law.

It is important that potential and existing dog owners are aware of the many responsibilities of owning and caring for a dog to ensure that they are able to give their dogs the best life that they can, filled with love, kindness, and care.

As well as caring for your own dog, you should also know what steps to take if you believe that an animal is being intentionally harmed or is a victim of unnecessary suffering. If you suspect that an animal is a victim to cruelty or neglect, we recommend that you contact the relevant Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in your nation to report and discuss your concerns: