Animal Welfare Act Law and Legal Definition

Dogs and other animals in commercial kennels fall under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Congress passed the AWA in 1966 to protect certain animals from inhumane treatment and neglect and the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) administers the AWA, its standards, and its regulations.

The AWA requires that minimum standards of care and treatment be provided for certain animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or exhibited to the public. Individuals who operate facilities in these categories must provide their animals with adequate care and treatment in the areas of housing, handling, sanitation, nutrition, water, veterinary care, and protection from extreme weather and temperatures. Although Federal requirements establish acceptable standards, they are not ideal. Regulated businesses are encouraged to exceed the specified minimum standards.

The AWA regulates the care and treatment of warmblooded animals, except those, such as farm animals, used for food, fiber, or other agricultural purposes. Currently, coldblooded animals, such as snakes and alligators, are exempt from coverage under the Act. Retail pet shops are not covered under the Act unless the shop sells exotic or zoo animals or sells animals to regulated businesses. Animal shelters and pounds are regulated if they sell dogs or cats to dealers. Pets owned by private citizens are not regulated.

The Animal Welfare Act specifically outlines, among other things, exercise standards for companion animals. For dogs, for example, "wholesome exercise" means that a dog is either let out of a cage for 30 minutes a day (5 days a week) or given a cage 2X the minimum cage size. That 2X means 12" longer, and wider than the dog is long...and 6" taller than the dog in a standing position (on all fours). Putting two dogs in a cage together is allowed, as long as there is 6" above the head of the tallest dog, and the cage meets the minimum standard for each dog, which is 6"X6" wider/longer than each dog.