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Cruelty to animals

The Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA) prohibits cruelty to all animals [s 13]. An animal is defined as a member of any species of the sub-phylum vertebrata, other than human beings and fish [s 3].

Ill treatment of animals is prohibited and a maximum penalty of $20 000 or a term of up to 2 years of imprisonment applies. If a person intends or is reckless about whether their ill treatment causes serious harm to, or the death of an animal, the maximum penalty is a fine of up to $50 000 or a term of up to 4 years imprisonment.

Ill treatment occurs where:

  • a person intentionally, unreasonably or recklessly causes an animal unnecessary harm
  • an owner fails to provide an animal with appropriate and adequate food, water, living conditions or exercise
  • an owner fails to take reasonable steps to alleviate any harm suffered by the animal
  • an owner abandons an animal
  • an owner neglects an animal so as to cause it harm
  • an owner uses an animal in an organised animal fight
  • an owner causes an animal to be killed or hunted by another animal
  • an owner kills an animal in a manner that causes the animal unnecessary pain
  • an owner carries out a medical or surgical procedure on an animal in contravention of the Animal Welfare Regulations 2012 (SA) or ill treats an animal in any other manner prescribed by those regulations.

For a comprehensive summary of the penalties for offences under the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA), click here.

Standards for the breeding and trading of companion animals

From August 2017 the treatment of animals bred as pets ('companion animals') has been regulated by the South Australian Standards and Guidelines for Breeding and Trading Companion Animals [see the Animal Welfare Regulations 2012 (SA) Schedule 2, item 1].

The definition of companion animals includes, but is not limited to, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

The Standards and Guidelines help to make clear the duties of breeders and traders under the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA).

The Standards are the minimum requirement set by law for the treatment of animals by breeders, pet shop owners and other traders in animals. A breach of the Standards may result in an expiation notice or prosecution under the Animal Welfare Regulations 2012 (SA) or, in more serious cases, a prosecution under the Animal Welfare Act 1985 (SA).

The Guidelines are not legally enforceable but provide guidance/direction to/on the requirements of the Standards and are intended to provide assistance in meeting these obligations.

There are several limits to the application of the Standards and Guidelines including animals that are given away. Also excluded from the application of the Standards and Guidelines are stray dogs, cats and litters of kittens or puppies ‘adopted’ or taken care of by a person who finds them on their property and does not subsequently breed from them.

Cruelty to animals  :  Last Revised: Mon Sep 7th 2020
The content of the Law Handbook is made available as a public service for information purposes only and should not be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice. See Disclaimer for details. For free and confidential legal advice in South Australia call 1300 366 424.