In April 2021, a new animal law was passed by parliament, meaning that people who abuse animals will now face longer maximum prison sentences of up to five years. It was also announced in May 2021 that a government taskforce has been established to crackdown on pet theft, as part of an ‘Action Plan for Animal Welfare’ that was confirmed in the Queen’s speech.

Then in June 2021, the government launched a second Animal Welfare Bill to protect pets, which includes new powers to tackle puppy smuggling. 

NAWT is always supportive of moves to protect and improve animal welfare, and has a particular interest in the laws affecting domestic pets. It is encouraging to see how the legal situation has progressed over the years for our beloved pets, and that we seem to be heading in the right direction.

Following the announcements, we look back on how animal law relating to domestic pets has changed over the past five decades. Click here to read part one, where we covered the 70s, 80s, and 90s. This month we are covering the year 2000 to the present day.


The Animal Welfare Act, an overhaul of pet abuse laws, came into force in England and Wales in the year 2007.

It was the first review of pet law in 94 years. It replaced the ‘Protection of Animals Act’, and was designed to prevent outright cruelty to animals. The Animal Welfare Act combined more than 20 pieces of legislation into one.

This act banned the docking (cutting or removal) of animals’ tails for cosmetic reasons.

The Act also introduced tougher penalties for neglect and cruelty, including fines of up to £20,000, a maximum jail term of 51 weeks and a lifetime ban on some owners keeping pets.

It introduced a welfare offence for the first time. This placed a 'duty of care' on pet owners to provide for their animals' basic needs, such as adequate food and water, veterinary treatment and an appropriate environment in which to live. Previously the 'duty of care' had only existed for farm animals.


It was during this decade that NAWT became more involved in supporting various legal campaigns. For example in 2019, we campaigned for the reform of pet theft by promoting the ‘Pet Theft Reform Bill’. We did this by asking supporters to get involved in a number of ways, including signing the Pet Theft Reform petition.

Under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 – owners have a legal duty to clean up every time their dog fouls in a public place, those who do not could face £80 fines.

In April 2016, it became compulsory for all dogs in England and Wales to be microchipped. NAWT have since released comprehensive guidance regarding microchipping and pet theft awareness (including a video and an advice sheet,) which can be found here.

This year also saw the introduction of stronger laws about dangerous dogs. For example, it became illegal to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere, including an owner’s home. You can find out more about the changes to this act on the NAWT website - Changes to the Dangerous Dogs Act - Advice for Owners (NAWT Advice Page)

In 2018, the maximum sentence for animal cruelty was increased from six months to up to ten times that amount, an announcement that NAWT was delighted with and publicly welcomed. This gave a clear signal to those who commit cruel acts - that society wants appropriate punishment for such brutality.

In 2019, we saw the introduction of Finn’s Law – a law to protect service animals that was inspired by a police dog called Finn, a German shepherd who was stabbed while protecting PC Dave Wardell from an attacker.

2020 and beyond:

In April 2020, ‘Lucy’s Law’ was introduced by the government, meaning that anyone wanting to get a new puppy or kitten must buy direct from a breeder, or consider adopting from a rescue centre instead.

Licensed dog breeders are required to show puppies interacting with their mothers in their place of birth. If a business sells puppies or kittens without a licence, they could receive an unlimited fine or be sent to prison for up to six months.

The law was named after Lucy, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who was rescued from a puppy farm, where she was subjected to terrible conditions.

In May 2021, it was announced that microchipping cats will become compulsory. It was also confirmed that animals in the UK will be formally recognised as sentient beings.

If you would like further information on animals and the law, please visit our advice hub:

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