Categories: Animal laws

What is the UK law concerning cat ownership?

Duchess a stray cat who was unowned - now cared for by Martha Kane in Malta. Photo: Michael @ PoC

The answer to this question is simple. With respect to "ownership", there are four types of cat in the UK. The domestic cat is "owned" by his or her human caretaker. That is a state that is recognised in law. The cat is considered a "chattel" - an inanimate object. This is old law and it desperately needs updating as it promotes abuse. A domestic cat can be bought and sold just like any other possession. In divorce proceedings, a domestic cat is a joint possession to be "divided" (not literally) between the couple. It is usually obvious as to who gets the cat.

The next group are stray cats. There are several categories of strays in respect to the concept of legal ownership. These cats are betwixt being owned by a person and being unowned. They are frequently taken in and cared for. A person who does this could lay claim to ownership of the cat concerned but the type of person who does it would not think in that way.

The third group are feral cats. These are not owned in any sense. They are effectively "wild domestic cats". They can be taken in too and become owned - usually kittens.

The fourth and last group is the 400 or so Scottish wild cats in the UK. These are not owned by anyone. But they are the responsibility of the people of Scotland to ensure that they do not become extinct.

The rules governing the ownership of wild cat hybrids in the UK is different. Click here please.

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What is the UK law concerning cat ownership?

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Mar 09, 2011
What to do
by: Wendy

6+ years ago the young couple next door got 2 cats-1 old and a youngster. Over the cold and wet winter we had that year, they were usually locked out and could be seen on the doorstep at all hours. The young one decided to move in with my other 3 cats and now lives here all night and re-appears early afternoon, after visiting an old lady 2 doors away for lunch ! We feed and care for her and had a wound treatedthat she sustained 3 years ago. Her teeth have gone rotten and need extracting under anaesthetic and the vet has quoted £250 to £400 ! We have been told that legally we have to get the 'old' owners permission to go ahead or we could be sued- she is in a lot of pain. Rang RSPCA for help and they were useless. Has any one got any suggestions ?

Dec 04, 2010
by: Leah

I really enjoyed this short article Michael it was very informative. Thanks

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • What is the law regarding the ownership of Savannah cats (F1 to F4) within the EU and what is required for these to be transported across EU borders?
    I am aware that there has been a change of legislation regarding "Pet Passports" for Savannahs and they are no longer classed as domestic cats.

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