Animal Welfare


Multiple pieces of legislation apply to dog owners in Northern Ireland. This guide will help you understand your responsibilities, but it is not to be considered legal advice. The information below applies to Northern Ireland only. The rules may be different in the Republic of Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland.

Animal Welfare

·        Animal cruelty – causing unnecessary suffering

Under animal welfare legislation a person commits a criminal offence if their action(s), or failure to act, cause an animal unnecessary suffering, whether physical or mental.  What exactly constitutes suffering is not defined and a person who causes an animal to suffer may be able to justify their actions by show that they acted for a legitimate purpose, such as benefiting the animal; or to protect a person, property or another animal.

There are also specific offences created by the Animal Welfare Act i.e. poisoning an animal (s. 8) or abandoning an animal (s.14)

In addition to the prohibition on suffering, owners are required to meet the needs of their animals

Failure to meeting welfare needs:

To meet their dog’s minimum welfare needs owners are required by law to provide their dogs with the following:

·                the need for a suitable environment;

·                the need for a suitable diet;

·                the need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns;

·                any need to be housed with, or apart from, other animals; and

·                the need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.


Inspectors appointed by the local government district (LGD) formerly district councils) are responsible for enforcing the law and have the power to issue improvement notices which detail how an owner is failing to meet the need of their animals and what steps need to be taken to comply with the law.

If an inspector or a police constable reasonably believes that an animal is suffering, they may take any measures they believe to be immediately necessary to alleviate the animal’s suffering. If a veterinary surgeon certifies that an animal is suffering or is likely to suffer unless circumstances change the animal may be removed. An animal may only be euthanised if a veterinary surgeon certified that it is in the best interests of the animal to be euthanised; unless the animal’s condition is such that there is no reasonable alternative to destroying it, and it is not reasonably practicable to wait for a veterinary surgeon.

An inspector or a constable may enter premises, other than a private house for the purpose of searching for an animal they reasonably believe to be suffering or likely to suffer if the circumstances of the animal do not change. An inspector or constable may also apply to a lay magistrate for a warrant to enter any premises, if necessary using reasonable force, in order to search for evidence of the commission of a relevant offence under animal welfare legislation.

What can happen if I break the law?

Dog owners who cause unnecessary suffering or fail to ensure their pet’s welfare needs are met could face prosecution for animal cruelty. Owners can be taken to court by the local government district if they fail to look after their pets properly and face a sentence of up to 5 years, and a fine of up to £20,000. They may also have their pet taken away and/or be banned from having pets in the future. An as alternative to prosecution the district council officer (dog warden?) may be served an improvement notice requiring you to improve your dog’s living conditions to that their welfare needs are met.

Who do I contact if I suspect animal cruelty?

Local government districts (LGD) are responsible for the welfare of domestic animals including dogs. Suspicions of cruelty should therefore be reported to your  LGD  (details are included below). The only exceptions to this is where cruelty is linked to other criminal activity for e.g. dog fighting, badger baiting with dogs, dog/puppy trafficking; these activities should be reported to PSNI

Belfast City Council

Telephone: 028 9027 0431 Email:

Eastern Region

Lisburn & Castlereagh City Council, and Ards & North Down Borough Council.

Telephone: 028 9244 7861 Email:

Northern Region

Mid & East Antrim Borough Council, Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council,

and Antrim & Newtownabbey Borough Council.

Telephone: 028 2563 3134 Email:

Southern Region

Armagh City, Banbridge & Craigavon Borough Council,

and Newry Mourne & Down District Council.

Telephone: 028 3751 5800 Email:

Western Region

Fermanagh & Omagh District Council, Derry City & Strabane District Council,

and Mid Ulster District Council.

Telephone: 028 8225 6226 Email:


Welfare of Animals Act (Northern Ireland) 2011, ss. 3, 4, 8, 9, 14.

Sentencing Guidelines – Magistrates’ Court – Animal Offences | Judiciary NI