Law On Cat Killing UK
The law on cat killing in the UK has not changed for over 100 years and longer. I was idly browsing through Our Cats and all about them by Harrison Weir. The book was published in 1889. On page 207 is a section entitled: THE LAW ON CAT KILLING. I can quote bits of it as it is in the public domain after all this time. It refers to ‘Addison on Torts’. This is a well known law book edited or authored by Mr Addison, I presume. “Tort” is a legal term meaning a civil wrong such as trespass (as opposed to a crime).
“It is clearly laid down in ‘Addison on Torts,’ that a person is not justified in killing his neighbour’s cat, or dog, which he finds on his land, unless the animal is in the act of doing some injurious act which can only be prevented by its slaughter”
The book also refers to an old case called Townsend v. Watken. That case states that if a person sets a trap for a fox and that trap kills a cat, the person who set the trap is liable for the cat’s death even if the cat should not have been on the person’s land. There is no mention of criminal law in Mr Weir’s book.
Today, however, deliberately killing a cat, unless it is under exceptional circumstances, is a crime.
The RSPCA in 2012, on their website make it clear that cats are protected by the law and it is a criminal offence to trap, injure and kill them. It does not matter if the cat is “trespassing” on someone’s land.
The RSPCA do not want the law changed. They say there is no evidence that cats have an impact on bird populations that warrant a change to law to curb their roaming.
Personally, I am very sensitive to other people’s rights and wishes. Some people positively detest having cats on their land. They might not detest cats but when they wander into their garden they become upset about peeing and defecating in their flower beds.
Cat caretakers do owe a duty towards other people to respect their rights and wishes. Cat caretakers have a similar duty towards their cats. It is therefore a balancing act between what are often competing objectives. Common sense must prevail.
The same common sense and respect needs to be given by people who don’t want cats in their garden. They should remind themselves that if they hurt or kill a cat it is probably someone’s much loved companion. It does not matter how annoyed you become.
In the UK a person killing a cat will be prosecuted for a criminal act under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Peter Johnstone became fed up when a neighbour’s cat regularly wandered into his garden. His wife had a phobia about cats. He was worried that she might get an infection from the cat as she had recently been to hospital for an operation. In short, he had some decent reasons for being upset.
He caught the cat, pushed it into some plastic bags, weighed the bags down with bricks and threw the cat into a canal. The cat drowned. He was caught, charged, tried and convicted. He was jailed for 4 months and banned from keeping animals for 25 years. As he was 57 years old at the time that was for the rest of his life, effectively.
I know things can be quite different in other countries, including North America but my research indicates that there are many similarities to the UK in America. The sadistic stories of the notorious “Woodsman” testify to some differences together with the story of the sheriff who took pot shots at roaming cats oblivious to the possibility that the cat belonged to someone. Although, the USA does have good animal protection laws and a concern for animal welfare. It is just that sometimes in some places it is not enforced properly. The UK has problems of enforcement too.
Note to Woodsman: don’t leave a comment.
My father keeps pigeons (racing) some of his birds are worth thousands, he has lost hundreds of birds over the years to neighbors visiting cats and on the occasions has trapped them in his lofts while in the act ,but even on these occasions the owners have made no reparations and the police say “it’s a civil matter” ,is he allowed under the law to kill said cats who are in the act of slaughtering his valuable livestock ?
The article is about the UK so I’ll presume your father is in the UK. In which case the answer is no. The answer depends on where your father lives. It sounds harsh and I am sympathetic. The answer is to better protect the birds. To force the cat owners to keep their cats indoors he might try suing one of them for negligence (a tort) but I don’t think it’ll work as domestic cats have the right to roam in the UK. And cats can’t be trespassers either because of their right to roam.
I have a simple question for all you cat owners who defend your cats freedom to roam publicly and take offence to those who are opposed to cats and their owners responsibilities. Responsible cat owners do not allow their cats to be a nuisance to other people because they train or curtail their cat.
Q: I used to enjoy sitting in my back garden in the summer or sometimes lay on a towel in the sunshine. Not anymore because my garden is now a disgusting, stinking cat toilet for about a dozen local cats. I have a six foot fence all around the perimeter but all these cats climb over it and shit and piss all over my back garden and on top of my single storey flat roof. Every few days I gather about a large bowlful of cat mess and I have to dispose of it. There is scars and holes all over my garden and I am at my wits end. Luckily, I am able to tip all this mess down a storm drain at the front of my house but I can assure you that when there has been rain, I sometimes accidentally flick the wet shit up on to my clothes and once on my face. The neighbors in my street see me disposing of this mess and they steer well clear of me because when they used to ask what I was doing, I told them and many of them apologised and shrugging their shoulders claimed there was nothing they could do. I educated them on litter tray use and training their cat or stopping their cat from leaving their property but years later it has not changed. My neighbours know and do not care, they avoid me and make no effort to change their cats nasty habit. No one has ever offered to come and clean up or pay me any compensation. I will not kill these cats because I am a decent person and I know how much people love their cats but I am at my wits end with my neighbours and their attitude and their avoidance disgusts me. What do you cat owners suggest?
Well, I’m a cat lover and I own this site and I think your neighbours are not doing the decent thing. If you have politely asked them to stop their cats coming into your backyard (back garden) and they’ve not responded helpfully I think they are behaving badly. If they are feral cats that’s another matter I am afraid.
You should realise that not all cat owners like their cats to roam freely. In America about 40% of domestic cats are kept indoors full-time. In Britain far more cats are allowed to go outside freely but that is changing too. If your neighbours won’t do the right thing then what I would do is the following.
You say that you have a fence around your garden but the cats climbed the fence. You can buy a simple retrofit device which is designed to keep cats inside the backyard or garden. But this retrofit also keeps cats from coming in to the garden so you should try that.
Or you place a overhanging net facing away from your garden which is attached to the top of the fence. You can contact a company which provides a cat confinement fence to retrofit the top bit only. In other words you treat the rest of the world as a cat confinement area whereas your back garden is cat free. That’s the idea.
If you want to contact me about that then email me and I will give you further instructions. It should not be that expensive by the way and it would completely resolve your problem. My email is mj********@gm***.com
Thank you for your swift reply and your thoughtful words and advice Michael. Amazingly I was scanning the internet today looking for solutions and I found this exact idea of yours and an even cheaper alternative involving rotating down pipes which I shall try first as I can do it myself (what are your thoughts on these and have you heard of them?) There are some countries in Europe which jail you if you trap or kill cats on your land and others that allow it. England allows killing or trapping of cats only if they are injurious to people, pets or livestock. Were people more like you, there would be little to no problem with domesticated cats but alas, I must try to remain tolerant, abide by the law and calmly deal with cleaning up mountains of cat shit from my badly behaved neighbors for the rest of my smelly life.
It is difficult for non-cat owners sometimes. Cat owners don’t really do themsevelves justice. Rotating pipes or poles work on the same principle. They should work adequately if not totally. If you humanely frighten visiting cats by making noise when they are there it is pretty effective in the long run. They learn that your garden is an unpleasant place to be and avoid it. A movement activated water sprayer might also be useful.
2 devices I would try first to keep cats out of your backyard plus alternatives
I used to have a visiting cat and I have pretty well conclusively scared her away through being humanely hostile to her. My cat was responding badly to her presence so I had to do it in the interests of his welfare and mine (he was spraying). Good luck.
Very useful advise Michael, thank you.
If I had hamsters or gerbils roaming free in my garden and next doors cat kept coming and killing them( for fun, like they do)
Can I shoot it?
We have 3 local cats that do their business in our garden. Unfortunately our dog sees these deposits as a treat. This causes a trip to the vets & has cost alot of money over the years ( it’s to do with the diet they live off) my question is, can I protect legally protect my animal by shooting with a catapult. It probably won’t kill one but would certainly cause a nasty injury, but not a permanent one. Or can I present the owners of the offending cats with the next vet bill. Before you ask we have had cats but they were trained to use a tray so not to deposit in the garden.
I completely understand you problem and am sympathetic. The obligation is with the cats’ owners (is there more than one owner?) to stop them coming onto your garden. I wouldn’t hurt the cats. You’d be committing a crime. You could be in trouble. You could threaten to sue in the tort of private nuisance if you have asked already and she/he or they have refused to cooperate. You might look at that.
Presenting the owners with vet’s bill would not work unless he/she or they voluntarily agreed to pay it. You might agree a joint or cooperative solution – a joint funding of a ProtectaPet pet containment fence around the part of your garden where they enter it. The fence overhang would face outwards to stop cats getting in. Google ProtectaPet. Or the cats’ owners could and should install one around their garden. There is little chance of that I am sure.
You may find these suggestion completely unacceptable and I’d understand. You just have to avoid exacerbating the problem because I presume the cats’ owners is or are neighbours.
Nuisance Cat trespasses on my land, disturbs my livestock (dog). I shoot nuisance animal in the face with licenced shotgun the same as if nuisance dog were to disturb a sheep or cow. Some people don’t have shotguns, a bag and brick would work just as well. If people really love their cats they wouldn’t let them roam and cause nuusance to all and sundry. The End
Where do you live Alan? If you kill cats on your land when they are minding their own business you are breaking the law. You seem to enjoy killing cats and dogs. Unpleasant.
If your cat craps in my garden, you have a choice: Either you clean it up or I will collect the crap, dump it in your garden and kill the cat.
The last of three would make you a criminal. If you did that to my cat I’d probably do my utmost to really hurt you. However, I’d clean up the crap. Also my cat is contained within my garden so he would not trespass on a property belonging to someone like you: an unpleasant individual who has a criminal bent.
i hate cats they fuck my garden up,,,i “toil the soil..i plant seeds ..and these bastards dig them up!!!!!!” shoot them all waste off space bastards!!!!!!!!
In this world of over 7 BILLION people, there are many who are homeless and unable to access toilets. Many of them eliminate in public. Should it then be legal to kill them because someone is offended by the presence of their eliminations? I rest my case.
“Should it then be legal to kill them because someone is offended by the presence of their eliminations?”
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. But are you saying people should kill cats because they defecate and urinate? If you are, it’s a crazy thought.
I realise your comment is 5 years old but… I would hope that any normal human being would value human life more than that of a cat.
Your case is invalid. The homeless must defecate somewhere and they have no choice but to defecate in public. The cat will naturally defecate anywhere it pleases but the DIFFERENCE is that you the owner of said cat can provide an alternative to your cat being a nuisance to other people. You can train your cat to use a litter tray or train it to defecate on your own property and that way you can deal responsibly with your own cat mess. There is also many options of preventing your cat from roaming public land and other peoples property. It seems to me that many cat owners are very irresponsible and refuse or bother to train or curtail their cats activities. We live in a society where many cat owners do not give a hoot about anybody else and actually encourage their cats to defecate and urinate elsewhere. Very selfish cat owners plague our land.
I always keep my beloved cats indoors, for their safety and health, and my own peace of mind because there are so many dangers outdoors including psychotic and sociopathic cat haters. Responsible, caring people keep their cats inside for these reasons. However, feral/community/unhoused cats do not have this option, and for anyone to vilify and/or persecute them for this is ludicrous (and it is a felony in the US, as it should be everywhere). Spay/neuter/TNR and managed colonies are the globally proven successful and humane way to solve this problem. Would you persecute homeless people for having to relieve themselves? It is certainly unpleasant and unhygienic, but you would do the same if you had no home. Cats, given the possibility, generally cover their waste, making them the cleanest beings on the planet besides marine animals.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Appreciated. I agree of course. However, it does concern me that some cat owners let their cats annoy neighbours. Most of the time we are unaware of it. But if a neighbour told me that my cat was annoying them I’d try and do something about it. It is my responsibility.
Cats’ safety and wellbeing are my priority. Humans, especially cat-haters, noisy and inconsiderate people, pitbull advocates/owners, and criminals, are ANNOYING to me. I wish they didn’t exist. Apart from that, people need to learn to be tolerant of others. I loathe dogs, but I don’t kill them.
I have to say I am sympathetic and I have a cat. And he goes outside. But he defecates in my garden. There is a problem with domestic cats ‘tresspassing’ on other people’s gardens and sometimes defecating and urinating. I think it is exaggerated through by the anti-cat brigade.
From a purely legal point…..in the UK its perfectly legal to humanly destroy feral cats on your property providing it is done humanly as they are considered vermin i.e. a well aimed shot with a shotgun, although in practice how you would tell the difference between someones beloved pet and a feral i’m not sure! clearly if a cat is a pet i.e. owned by a human then its clearly totally illegal, I have never done this nor do i plan to however just thought this was worth pointing out!
Thanks Matt for contributing. You have hit the nail on the head: (a) you can’t tell a stray/feral from a domestic, owned cat, especially at a distance and (b) you can’t really guarantee to kill a cat humanely with a gun. Not in my opinion anyway.
When I shoot cats I use 12g 8 pallet buckshot. Turned the last nuisance trespassing tabby inside out. Not so much as a meow. Doesn’t get more humane than that
Hi Michael. Would not compulsory microchipping help with proving a cat is domestic, and cats having to wear a high visibility collar make their status more obvious?
Yes, both apply. But I guess microchipping and collars are not definitive evidence that a cat is a domestic cat. A microchipped domestic cat can become a stray and feral. The same applies to having a collar. But if the microchip provided a current name and address and the person claimed the cat it would be a domestic cat.
This is absolutely ridiculous all you idiotic cat owners, do you know how many millions of birds and mammals are killed each year in the UK by damn cats that are not kept in and allowed to stay. There is a law in the UK that bans dogs from being allowed out alone this should apply to cats, in Australia there are specialist teams who are deployed to go out at night and shoot cats that roam and kill their native wildlife such is the terrible damage they do, stop for one second and think of the damage you and your cats are doing to the UK wildlife and stop being so selfish, lets how they adopt the Australian law to the UK soon!!!
Chris when you cool down provide hard evidence and stats on cats damaging wildlife. It does not exist. Believe me. Everything is guesswork and estimates. You have been indoctrinated. And I don’t like you insulting cat owners. The article was very balanced and fair. I don’t think you read it properly.
Great, I never knew the actual law in the UK on this sort of thing. I know in Switzerland you get a fine if you hit a cat whilst driving. I find that pretty extreme just because in some cases you might be powerless to stop it from happening. This led me to think that maybe the law is there as a deterrent more than anything. It just means people who are tempted to put their foot down might actually think twice if they are going through a village at night for example. This law also causes people who do hit a cat to drive away immediately I guess, and if the cat is not dead this could be a very bad thing since they might otherwise be able to inform a neighbour or knock on a door and steps taken to save the cat’s life.
But in general, having a law that states all cats are protected and its illegal to kill them just means that when somebody does have a serious problem with a cat, a proper solution can be found which will perhaps end the problem for good. By killing the cat you just make room for another cat to come along and cause the same problem sooner or later.
Furthermore, cats are and have been domesticated animals for ages so it can be expected that where there are people, there might well be cats. There might well be dogs too. So it is competely wrong to come along and expect there not to be. You don’t go to a Chinese restaurant and order them to make Indian food. You don’t move into a village or town and try to end all cats who touch your territory. It doesn’t make sense. People who can’t handle something that is naturally occuring in a plce should move to another place and not try to change the nature of the place. Move to the forest, far away, alone, where there are no cats. Intolerance is not something that tolerant people should have to suffer and its a losing battle for the intolerant person, always. People that live in communities, whi have cats or dogs and throw bits of bread to the pigeons in the park is natural phenomena on this planet and although there are many destructive issues and faults with this phenomena, it is nonetheless a force of nature. If you dont like it for any reason, you are free to live away from it. If you can’t tolerate some part of it, go away. I personally hate barking dogs in my neighbourhood. I dont mind dogs, I just think its terrible to live with them barking at nothing and everything through the day and I do find it unfair that I should have to listen to it. Usually I suspect its just people who dont look after their dogs properly, and who have no concept of how invasive it is to be the source of the rest of the neighbourhoods soundtrack each day. But regardless of all of these things, the answer for me is not to kill the dog. Infact I just bought an apartment, but I made sure there is no loud barking dog around before I bought it. It’s my personal thing, my personal intolerance and I must deal with it peacefully in my own way.
So, to conclude, I think it makes perfect sense that killing cats should be totally illegal. I can’t believe the way of things in the US. I guess there is a massive amount of intolerance in some areas of the US. It’s very backwards and ultimately the fact the intolerant people seem to have so much power in the US just means that society out there can’t progress. But I guess Europe is built on tolerance at this point, and US the opposite. People who stayed in Europe learned to live with eachother and move on, with limited space etc. So the difference here for cats doesnt suprise me one bit. America is built on a rather different set of principles whereby your land os god given and you can tolerate or not tolerate whatever you want which crosses your land and if you dont like it you can just shoot it. At least it seems like that goes for some proportion of the country because it seems to happen rather a lot. Society can’t progress with that sort of attitude and its bad news for any cat who lives in such an area. Killing cats should be both illegal and enforced.
Sorry to go on with such long comments. Another corker of a picture going on up there 🙂
Thanks Marc. There are quite a lot of people asking the question, “can I kill a cat who comes onto my property” and the answer is no. As you say the better solution is to talk and try and find a decent and humane remedy. There is a hidden conflict here, though, across Britain, between people who keep cats and people who don’t keep or like cats.
There are many ways to deter cats aren’t there? If my neighbour could not handle my cat I would be happy to pay to set up deterrents if it meant everyone would be happy and without worry. Its the digging up of flowers I imagine, that people dislike the most – especially those who keep a nice, high maintenance garden. I understand the problem. Killing and hating the cats however is childish and a waste of time.
Peter Johnstone may have had his reasons for not wanting his neighbour’s cat in his garden but there are many ways to make a garden unnattractive to cats and he had no justification for cruelly killing that cat and I’m glad he went to jail. Personally I’d like the old Bible adage back ‘an eye for an eye’ ‘a life for a life’ I would have had no problem doing to him as he did to the cat, or to any others who abused any animal. Maybe to some people an animal’s life isn’t important but they conveniently forget we are animals too only in a different form and in fact human animals have much more disgusting habits and should know right from wrong where as cats merely follow their instincts. This world will never be any better until everyone learns to live and let live.
So I hope you are a vegetarian too, else the hypocrisy of your eye for and eye comment would.be all too apparent.
I believe all life has the right to live, be it man or cat or sheep or cow or dog.
Do you also stand by this or do you love your cat then go eat a burger?
Ruth is a vegetarian. Thanks for commenting.
thank you for the reply.
i do think that 25 years banning is pathetic as he would never have a pey anyway.
4 months in prison is a bit better.
I wonder how long i’d get for bagging and drowning the litle bastard kids that climb over the garden fences and mess about in my garden?