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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Cruelty To Animals (WA)


In Western Australia, laws relating to keeping or working with animals are contained the Animal Welfare Act 2002. The Act sets out animal cruelty offences and penalties, and grants investigation powers to the RSPCA and Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.

The offence of animal cruelty

Section 19 of the Act makes animal cruelty an offence which carries a minimum penalty of $2000 fine and a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine and imprisonment for 5 years. A person is cruel to an animal if the person:

  • tortures, mutilates, maliciously beats of wounds, abuses, torments or otherwise ill-treats the animal;
  • uses a prescribed inhumane device (such as jawed traps, sharpened spurs or electric-shock devices) on the animal;
  • intentionally or recklessly poisons the animal;
  • does any prescribed act to, or in relation to, the animal;
  • in any other way, causes the animal unnecessary harm.

Harm includes injury, pain and distress evidenced by severe, abnormal physiological or behavioural reactions.

A person is also cruel to an animal if the animal is:

  • transported in a way that causes, or is likely to cause, the animal unnecessary harm;
  • confined, restrained or caught in a way that is prescribed, or causes or is likely to cause unnecessary harm;
  • is worked, driven, ridden or other otherwise used when it is not fit for this or has been over-used; or in a way that causes, or is likely to cause, the animal unnecessary harm.

An animal cruelty offence is also committed when the animal:

  • is not provided with proper and sufficient food or water;
  • is not provided with shelter, shade and other protection from weather as is reasonably necessary to ensure its welfare, safety and health;
  • is abandoned, where it is normally kept or elsewhere;
  • is subjected to prescribed surgery or similar operation, practice or activity;
  • suffers harm which could be reasonably avoided;
  • suffers harm as a result of a prescribed activity;
  • is, in any other way, caused unnecessary harm.

If a person is found in possession of an item intended to be used to inflict cruelty on an animal, the person is liable for a maximum penalty of a $20,000 fine and imprisonment for one year.

Shooting, hunting or fighting captive animals

Section 32 of the Act makes engaging in a prohibited activity a criminal offence that carries a minimum penalty of $2000 fine and a maximum penalty of a $50,000 fine and imprisonment for 5 years. A prohibited activity is an activity that involves releasing an animal or placing the animal somewhere for the purpose of enabling it to be:

  • shot at, by a firearm or other weapon;
  • hunted by a person or another animal;
  • fought by a person or another animal;
  • chased by another animal, other than an animal of the same species.

A person engages in a prohibited activity if they participate, spectate, organise, promote, host, keep an animal for it, or encourage an animal to take part.

Use of animals for scientific purposes

The use of animals for scientific purposes is banned unless the person or scientific centre has a licence that authorises such use, and the centre’s ethics committee has granted approval to use the animals. The maximum penalty is a $50,000 fine or imprisonment for 5 years. The same penalty applies to a person who supplies animals for use for scientific purposes without a licence that authorises this.

Defences to animal cruelty

There are some instances where a person’s actions will not constitute animal cruelty. Here are some examples:

Self-defence or protection

A person does not commit an animal cruelty offence if they can prove their actions were needed to defend themselves or another person from an animal that was attacking or threatening to attack them. This defence does not apply if a person enters or tries to enter a place or vehicle to commit an unlawful act, and the animal is in the place or vehicle, or is a guard animal. It also does not apply if the person provoked or threatened the animal, or if the animal is one used by police, or an officer at customs, quarantine, or a prison.

Veterinary care

It is a defence if the person was veterinary surgeon providing the animal with care in line with generally accepted veterinary  practices.

Normal animal husbandry

It is a defence if the person can prove the act was done humanely in a generally accepted animal husbandry practice, at a farm, zoo or wildlife park, or animal breeding establishment.

Killing pests

It is a defence if a person was trying to kill pests and in a way that was generally accepted as usual and reasonable, and took care not to harm any non-pest animals.

Stock fending for itself

It is a defence if the animal were a type of stock animal ordinarily left to roam on a farm which could reasonably support all animals roaming on it.

Release into the wild

It is a defence if a person released an animal into the wild and reasonably expected the animal to be able to fend for itself.

For advice or representation in any legal matter, please contact Armstrong Legal.

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