Animal Cruelty Law & Legal Definition


Acts of violence or neglect perpetrated against animals are considered animal cruelty. Animal cruelty laws vary by state, and violations may constitute a felony or a misdemeanor, depending on the jurisdiction. Many animal cruelty laws specifically exclude accepted animal husbandry practices involving farm animals, animals used in research, and lawful hunting and trapping of wildlife. Some states have training and reporting programs for social workers who suspect animal abuse during the course of their work in domestic violence and child abuse and some states provide immunity to veterinarians who report suspected abuse.

Generally, animal cruelty can be divided into two categories: neglect and intentional cruelty. Examples of intentional cruelty include, among others, overt abuse, when an individual purposely inflicts physical harm or injury on an animal, dog fighting and cock fighting. Acts of neglect include companion animals being neglected or denied basic necessities of care, such as food, water, shelter, or veterinary care.

The following is an example of a state statute dealing with cruelty to animals:
"A) No person shall:

  • (1) Torture an animal, deprive one of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beat, needlessly mutilate or kill, or impound or confine an animal without supplying it during such confinement with a sufficient quantity of good wholesome food and water;
  • (2) Impound or confine an animal without affording it, during such confinement, access to shelter from wind, rain, snow, or excessive direct sunlight if it can reasonably be expected that the animals would otherwise become sick or in some other way suffer. Division (A)(2) of this section does not apply to animals impounded or confined prior to slaughter. For the purpose of this section, shelter means a man-made enclosure, windbreak, sunshade, or natural windbreak or sunshade that is developed from the earth's contour, tree development, or vegetation.
  • (3) Carry or convey an animal in a cruel or inhuman manner;
  • (4) Keep animals other than cattle, poultry or fowl, swine, sheep, or goats in an enclosure without wholesome exercise and change of air, *nor or feed cows on food that produces impure or unwholesome milk;
  • (5) Detain livestock in railroad cars or compartments longer than twenty-eight hours after they are so placed without supplying them with necessary food, water, and attention, nor permit such stock to be so crowded as to overlie, crush, wound, or kill each other.
  • (B) Upon the written request of the owner or person in custody of any particular shipment of livestock, which written request shall be separate and apart from any printed bill of lading or other railroad form, the length of time in which such livestock may be detained in any cars or compartment without food, water, and attention, may be extended to thirty-six hours without penalty therefor. This section does not prevent the dehorning of cattle.
  • (C) All fines collected for violations of this section shall be paid to the society or association for the prevention of cruelty to animals, if there be such in the county, township, or municipal corporation where such violation occurred."

Animals used for fighting purposes are subject to state laws, which vary by state. For example, the following is an example of a state law that allows confisction of dogs used for fighting purposes. Local laws should be consulted for specific requirements in your area:

"(16) An animal that has been used to fight in violation of this section or that is involved in a violation of subsections (8) to (14) shall be confiscated as contraband by a law enforcement officer and shall not be returned to the owner, trainer, or possessor of the animal. The animal shall be taken to a local humane society or other animal welfare agency. If an animal owner, trainer, or possessor is convicted under subsection (2) or subsections (8) to (14), the court shall award the animal involved in the violation to the local humane society or other animal welfare agency "