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State Animal Anti-Cruelty Laws

All U.S. states have laws protecting companion animals against cruelty, including felony provisions for animal torture. Anti-cruelty and companion animal protection laws operate under the police power of the state, so each state has the authority to determine the scope of the laws and the penalties for violation; therefore, some states have more laws protecting animals and stricter penalties than others. Animal cruelty laws operate to protect animals from all sorts of harm, from dogfighting to neglect. As of 2014, all states have felony provisions for animal cruelty, with South Dakota being the last state to make these provisions.

Laws that are intended to protect animals or regulate activities concerning animals are usually in several sections of that state’s statutes. For example, a section on Professional Occupations may regulate veterinarians and their liability and responsibilities when it comes to reporting suspected animal abuse; a section on Municipalities may regulate the operation and recordkeeping duties of local animal shelters; a section on Law Enforcement may regulate officers’ responsibilities when they encounter companion animals locked in cars.

Additionally, state laws designate the powers that the cities and towns within the state have for regulating animal businesses and their own animal protection laws. For example, while the state of California as a whole does not ban cat de-clawing, its statutes allowed individual cities to pass their own ordinances to ban cat de-clawing within their borders. Because each state has different standards for animal protection as well as municipal authority, each state and city may have their own animal cruelty laws. It is important to remember, though, that most cities cannot override state laws (unless they have home rule), much like states cannot override federal laws in areas where federal authority already exists.

For information on your state’s animal cruelty laws, please visit NAVS’ Animal Law Resource Center. The Animal Law Resource Center provides a comprehensive database of legislation and legal matters pertaining to animals and the law. Topics include animal cruelty, animal control, laboratory animal welfare, wildlife management and other issues concerning animals in our society. The Animal Law Resource Center is updated regularly and is presented in searchable databases to give the public greater access to the laws concerning animals.