Cruelty, duty of care and abandoning animals

It is an offence under the Animal Care and Protection Act 2001 (the Act) for people in charge of animals to abandon or release them, be cruel or breach their duty of care.


The offence of cruelty relates to causing unjustifiable, unnecessary or unreasonable pain to animals. 'Pain' includes distress and mental or physical suffering.

This offence covers actions that the community would perceive as cruel and unacceptable, including:

The maximum penalty for an individual convicted of cruelty to animals is $322,600.00 or 3 years imprisonment under the Act. There are also offences for serious animal cruelty under the Criminal Code Act 1899 which have a maximum penalty of 7 years imprisonment.

Breach of duty of care

A person in charge of an animal has a legal duty of care to provide for the animal's needs in an appropriate way. The Act includes specific offences for people who fail to meet their duty of care obligations towards the animals in their charge.

The penalty for an individual convicted of a breach of duty of care is up to $48,390.00 or 1 year imprisonment. However, more serious breaches can attract penalties that align with those for animal cruelty (section 18), that is, up to $322,600.00 or 3 years imprisonment.

The higher penalty applies where a person's breach of the duty of care results in the death, serious deformity, serious disability, or prolonged suffering of the animal. This could occur, for example, where a person does not feed or provide water for the animal over a long period, or where they have not treated or sought treatment for an animal's injury or illness.

The higher penalty is not intended to apply where drought has caused animals to lose some body weight. Meeting the duty of care means taking reasonable steps in the circumstances to provide for an animal's needs.

Learn more about duty of care.

Unreasonable abandonment or release

It is an offence under the Act for people in charge of animals to abandon or release them. This includes going away on holiday or moving house and leaving a pet behind to fend for itself, or deliberately dumping an unwanted animal at the roadside or in the bush.

The maximum penalty for an individual convicted of unreasonable abandonment or release is $48,390.00 or 1 year imprisonment.

If you go away and leave your animals, make sure you have arranged for someone else to care for them.

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