Stray cats and dogs are well protected under Italian law

It may surprise some people, as it has surprised me, that stray cats and dogs are given a lot of protection in Italy; far more than in most other countries. This probably shouldn’t surprise me because the stray cats – I’m loathe to call them feral cats because they appear to be semi-domesticated – of Rome are well known.

Stray cat is a member of one of the 5,000 cat colonies in Rome protected under the law.
Stray cat is a member of one of the 5,000 cat colonies in Rome protected under the law. Image: MikeB (Canva under license).
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

RELATED: Trap-neuter-release has worked well for the stray cats occupying four ancient temples in Rome, Italy.

I’m told that there are 5,000 cat colonies registered with Rome’s health authorities. The most famous of these are the cats that live in the ruins of Torre Argentina, the site where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death.

The place wouldn’t be the same without the cats because we’ve seen so many photographs of them. But the cats of Rome aren’t the only stray animals that are protected so comprehensively.

I have unearthed a 1991 Italian law – I presume therefore a federal law to use American terminology – which provides universal protection to stray cats and dogs. It is called, the Framework Law on Pets and Prevention of Animal Strays. As Italy is a longterm member of the EU this law will be compliant with EU law and directives and it was probably created out of EU law. It indicates that the EU has advanced animal protection laws. Bureaucratic the EU might be, but it does set high standards on animal welfare.

It came into force on the 14 September 1991. The section below comes from LAW 14 August 1991. This is just a sample of what this law looks like:

Art. 2
Treatment of dogs and other pets

  1. The control of the population of dogs and cats by means of birth limitation shall, taking into account scientific progress, be carried out by the veterinary services of the local health units. Owners or keepers may have recourse at their own expense to the authorised veterinary surgeries of dog societies, animal protection societies and private individuals.
  2. Stray dogs found, captured or otherwise sheltered in the facilities referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 4 may not be euthanized.
  3. Dogs captured or otherwise coming from the facilities referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 4 may not be used for experimentation.
  4. Captured stray dogs, duly tattooed, shall be returned to the owner or keeper.
  5. Captured non-tattooed stray dogs, as well as dogs housed in the facilities referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 4, must be tattooed; if not claimed within sixty days, they can be transferred to private individuals who give guarantees of good treatment or to protectionist associations, subject to prophylactic treatment against rabies, echinococcosis and other communicable diseases.
  6. Without prejudice to the provisions of Articles 86, 87 and 91 of the Veterinary Police Regulations approved by Decree No 320 of the President of the Republic of 8 February 1954, as amended, dogs admitted to the facilities referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 4 may be euthanised exclusively by veterinary surgeons if they are seriously ill, incurable or proven dangerous.
  7. It is forbidden for anyone to mistreat free-roaming cats.
  8. Free-roaming cats shall be sterilised by the competent health authority and readmitted to their group.
  9. Free-roaming cats may only be euthanized if they are seriously ill or incurable.
  10. Protectionist bodies and associations may, in agreement with local health units, manage colonies of free-living cats, ensuring their health care and survival conditions.
  11. Protectionist bodies and associations may manage the facilities referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 4, under the health supervision of the veterinary services of the local health unit.
  12. The establishments referred to in paragraph 1 of Article 4 may keep their own dogs in custody for a fee and guarantee the first aid service.

There are some interesting observations. For example, stray dogs that have been captured by the authorities and placed into pounds or animal shelters cannot be euthanised. And they can’t be used for experimentation. If they have a tattoo identification they should be returned to their owner.

In fact, it says that if a stray dog is captured by the authorities and housed in a shelter they must be tattooed with an ID and if they’re not claimed within 60 days they can be transferred to a person who must provide a guarantee of good treatment. It is interesting that tattoo IDs are being used. I wonder if this has evolved into microchipping?

Legislative decree No. 281/1991 states the standards for the treatment of companion and stray animals. It states that an owner must register dogs, and anyone who abandons their animals will be fined. It also prohibits the killing of stray dogs and cats unless the animal is affected by an incurable disease or is a proven danger. These killings can only be performed by a veterinarian.


As for cats, “It is forbidden for anyone to mistreat free-roaming cats”. What about that for a nationwide animal protection provision? That particular clause is very wide and encompasses all free-roaming cats. It would seem to apply to both freeroaming domestic cats and freeroaming stray and feral cats.

And you can only euthanise a stray cat that’s been brought into a shelter if they are seriously ill and the illnesses incurable. Normal, you’d think but over the years millions of cats and dogs have been ‘euthanised’ in American shelters when they were perfectly healthy and adoptable.

I don’t know how well enforced this is but if it’s enforced properly then the standard of care afforded to shelter animals in Italy is higher than you would find in say America and certainly in almost any other country.

Italians are known to love their cats, which is illustrated in laws to protect feral cat colonies. Cats can roam wherever they want even among, as we know above, the country’s historic landmarks. One website tells me that if anybody harms a cat in Italy they can be charged with a crime. That would appear to be normal but it seems to encompass feral cats as well and I know that in America, for instance, there are people who shoot feral cats for fun and, it appears, get away with it.

This other source also says that stray cats can’t be relocated and the authorities are responsible for sterilising local street cat colonies.

I think I will stop there and conclude by saying that Italy has some very enlightened animal welfare and protection laws for stray cats and dogs including feral cats and dogs. But the question is how well enforced are they?

In a recent post I looked at a couple of examples where animal laws were poorly enforced one of which comes from the UK and the other comes from the USA. Click on the link below if you wish to read the article.

RELATED: Difficulties in enforcing some animal laws

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21 thoughts on “Stray cats and dogs are well protected under Italian law”

  1. Bird lovers control the public opinion machine, their research spreads around the world, and people believe what bird lovers say more

    • Yes, I get your point. Bird lovers make more noise on conservation and make some pretty wild claims (as far as I am concerned) about domestic and feral cat predation. Cat owners are on the defensive. And there is a gradual shift towards keeping cats inside because of this but cat owners don’t do anywhere near enough to make the inside of their home more interesting for a cat or cats. So there are many more bored and overfeed cats which has led to a cat obesity epidemic when combined with dry cat food and more health problems and a shortened lifespan.


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