Animal Abuse Laws Guide 2024

We all know the US is a country that loves and spoils pets, so there’s no surprise that animal abuse laws have been getting more strict throughout the years.

Continue reading to learn the difference between animal welfare versus animal rights and find out what laws protect animals in the US. 

What Is Considered Animal Abuse?

Animal abuse includes various behaviors that are harmful to pets and their well-being. It can range from abandonment and neglect to maliciously injuring or ending their life.

Intentional cruelty happens when someone knowingly deprives an animal of food, water, shelter, socialization, or veterinary care to torture, mutilate, or kill it maliciously. Animal rights laws are set up to ensure the wellbeing and comfortable life of all animals. 

Educating new pet owners on unintentional neglect is a primary key in ensuring the animals’ livelihood and well-being.

What Are Some Types Of Animal Cruelty?

There are many examples of animal cruelty. Some include directly harming the animal, while some refer to neglect or failure to care for the animal properly. In general, animal cruelty laws by state vary, but here are some of those types:  


You would be surprised how many people physically abuse and torture animals. There is even a term for when a person gains pleasure from abusing animals — Zoosadism. Unfortunately, some of the most tortured animals are livestock, as very few cases are prosecuted.


What is considered animal neglect? Neglect is when a pet owner doesn’t provide the bare minimum necessities for the animal. It can be anything from a lack of veterinary care and adequate shelter to starvation and dehydration.

Sometimes, neglect is not intentional, and owners aren’t aware of the consequences of their actions. This is often the case with hoarding situations, for instance. 

At the end of the day, the best way to prevent and stop animal abuse is by educating pet owners on the importance of proper care and the consequences of not providing it.


It is illegal to abandon your animal in many states, even though many would agree that there aren’t enough animal cruelty laws regulating that. 

Unfortunately, even the existing ones are not easy to enforce. Owners usually leave the scene immediately and are rarely noticed. 

Abandonment implies leaving a pet behind in a public or private area without the intention to come back and continue caring for it. Statistics show that over 70 million stray animals are on US streets at any time, so this is quite an issue.

If you witness such a crime, the best thing to do is write down the license plate number, call the animal abuse hotline, and report it.

Leaving Pets in Hot Cars

Unfortunately, leaving a pet in a parked car during a hot day is illegal only in a few states. Most people would agree that is very disappointing, as leaving animals in hot vehicles can lead to them having a fatal heatstroke. 

Even if the windows are slightly open, the temperature inside the car can quickly rise to the point where pets can suffocate or get brain damage. 

Cosmetic Cruelty

Many animals are victims of cosmetic cruelty, especially elective cosmetic surgery. The most common types of those animal cruelty surgeries include cropping the ears and docking the tail. 

Cropping is when the ear is surgically reshaped by cutting the “floppy” part of it, resulting in a more intimidating look. 

Docking is when a portion of the tail is removed. Many people, including pig farm owners, cut their animals’ tails so they can’t be bitten off.

The big problem with both of these practices is that they inflict pain, damage the animal’s nervous system, and affect their body language. Besides, there is a big chance of an infection and blood loss if done in unsanitary conditions. 

Dog Fighting

Animal abuse laws also cover dogfighting. Dogfighting is a brutal “sport,” as the dogs forced to fight one another often don’t stop until one of them dies. They are usually isolated, fed with steroids, and trained to fight simply for entertainment and money. 

Moreover, most dogs would have their ears cropped and tails docked so that the dog they are made to fight cannot read their body language and has less to grab on.  

Additionally, this dangerous practice attracts other hazardous activities, such as gambling, fighting, and selling illegal drugs and weapons. 

This is one reason why dogfighting counts as an animal cruelty felony in all 50 states, including the participants and the spectators. So, if you suspect there is dog fighting in your area, contact an animal control officer or the police as soon as possible. 

Animal Testing

No type of animal is safe from being experimented on. Dogs, cats, mice, rats, rabbits, and pigs can all become prisoners of different industries. Many companies test cosmetics, medications, everyday household items, and pesticides on animals. 

This experimentation is inhumane and often ineffective, as animals don’t get the same diseases humans do, which is why it counts as one of the types of animal cruelty. And the worst part is that 90% of drugs tested on animals don’t even make it to humans.

Animal testing usually consists of chemicals given as food, recurrent surgeries, implantation of wires in their brain, crushing their bones, and much more. 

Circus Animal Abuse

People often see the circus as a magical event where animals perform tricks, but there is much more to it than that. Some animals travel 11 months each year in unthinkable conditions, among other shocking abuse.

For example, circus animals are often starved and dehydrated. They are given those bare necessities only as a treat when they successfully complete a trick. 

Moreover, this often includes exotic animals being taken from their natural habitat as babies to endure cruel, abusive training with whips, shock devices, chains, and restraints. 

Animal cruelty laws vary by state. For example, New Jersey has stringent criteria when it comes to keeping your pets outside. A proper shelter there requires:

  • enough space to move around comfortably
  • clean conditions and access to clean food and water
  • good air exposure and light
  • protection from severe weather

Another example is animal cruelty laws in Georgia. The state of Georgia charges any aggravated animal cruelty with a felony, which implies a prison sentence of one to five years and a fine of up to $15,000.

Federal Animal Cruelty Laws

Let’s take a closer look at the current laws protecting animals and their history. 

The Animal Welfare Act

The Animal Welfare Act of 1966, also known as AWA, is the first federal law in the United States that ensured a minimum standard of care for animals. That includes providing housing, a clean environment, nutrition, water, veterinary needs, and safety during bad weather. 

This federal animal cruelty law applies to everyone involved in the pets’ life. From handlers to breeders, they all have a responsibility towards the animal’s well-being. 

The AWA protects most warm-blooded creatures except some birds, rats, and mice. Unfortunately, farm animals used for food, horses that aren’t kept for research purposes, certain fish, and most cold-blooded animals are not protected by the AWA.

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act

The PACT Act was signed by President Donald Trump in 2019. Because of the animal cruelty bill, abusers can face felony charges, fines, and up to seven years in prison. So the answer to the question of is animal cruelty a felony is more than evident.

The PACT Act has to do with “animal crushing,” when smaller animals like kittens, puppies, bunnies, or mice are being intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, or severely injured in any other physical way.

The Trump animal cruelty act of 2019 gives federal prosecutors the power to press charges against those who “crush” animals and those who record and distribute videos of the crushing act. 

The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act

The Humane Methods of Slaughter Act is an animal cruelty federal law created to limit livestock suffering during slaughter. 

Its purpose is to prevent unnecessary suffering and improve working conditions. One of the requirements is that animals must be fully sedated to not feel any pain.

HMSA protects most livestock animals such as cattle, horses, mules, pigs, sheep, and calves; however, poultry birds, such as chickens, are not protected by this animal cruelty act.

The Endangered Species Act

The US government introduced the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973 to protect endangered and threatened species from extinction. 

This animal cruelty law protects those animals by prohibiting importing, exporting, selling, possessing, and transporting them. Also, it protects the destruction of their natural habitat and provides land for their current and future existence. 


Is animal abuse a felony in all 50 states?

Felony provisions are included in all animal abuse laws in every state. However, they all have different levels of punishment.

Among the best states for animal protection are Illinois, Oregon, and California. Some of the worst are Kentucky, Iowa, and Wyoming. It is surprising that Kentucky still forbids veterinarians from reporting any suspicious behavior to authorities.

How to report animal abuse?

The best way to report animal abuse is to get in touch with your local law enforcement office, humane society, or animal control. 

If you witnessed animal cruelty, make sure to properly document everything in detail, including dates, times, and anything else that might be helpful.

Ideally, any footage would work best, as it provides more evidence and makes any further investigation much easier.

How long can you leave a dog alone legally?

Although morally, a pet shouldn’t be left alone for long, it doesn’t become a legal issue until it’s considered abandoned or neglected. 

Understandably, pet owners have to go to work and leave their companions alone for some time. However, they still shouldn’t be left alone for more than 12 hours. 

Owners should plan accordingly, and when they know that they’ll be absent for a long time, they should consider a doggy daycare or a pet-walking service. 

How to report animal abuse anonymously?

Reporting animal abuse is an intimidating duty, especially if you know the abuser. That being said, you should be aware that animal crimes are kept confidential.

You might be asked for your name and phone number if the authorities need to follow up on a particular incident. However, rest assured that information is always kept confidential.

What is animal cruelty punishment?

President Donald Trump signed a bill that makes animal cruelty a felony. With this new law, the abusers could face fines and up to seven years in prison.


Animals have become such an essential part of our lives. Now, more than ever, we consider them part of our families, and we have to make sure they are treated with the kindness and compassion they deserve.

It is vital for us, animal lovers, to continue fighting for the improvements of animal abuse laws. We have to find a way to stop animal cruelty and ensure that those who break the rules will pay the price.

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