We at AH2 Legal sometimes get questions from people who have been accused of being cruel to their pets. Sometimes, people get into trouble with the law and end up having to go to Court to defend themselves for their actions against their own pets at home.

It is important to understand that people are responsible for their actions against animals in Australia and that there are significant consequences for people who are guilty of being cruel to animals.

In Western Australia, the Animal Welfare Act 2002 (WA) (the Act) establishes the responsibilities of persons keeping or working with animals in Western Australia and sets out offences relating to cruelty to animals.

The Act covers all amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals other than humans. It does not cover invertebrates or fish. The Act gives investigatory powers to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.  

Cruelty to Animals

In Western Australia, section 19 of the Act makes cruelty to animals an offence. Cruelty to animals is defined to include:

  • poisoning an animal;
  • using a prescribed inhumane device on an animal;
  • torturing, mutilating, beating, wounding, abusing, tormenting or mistreating an animal; and
  • in any other way causing harm to an animal.

A person can be found to have been cruel to an animal if they have:

  • failed to provide adequate food and water;
  • failed to provide adequate shelter;
  • abandoned the animal;
  • confined, restrained or caught an animal in a manner that causes unnecessary harm;
  • transported an animal in a way that causes it unnecessary harm;
  • worked, driven, ridden or used it when it was not fit to be used or in a manner that causes unnecessary harm;
  • subjected the animal to an unprescribed surgical procedure; or
  • otherwise caused unnecessary harm to an animal.

The maximum penalty for an offence of cruelty to animals under section 19 of the Act is a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for 5 years.

Possess thing intended to inflict cruelty

Section 31 of the Act makes it an offence to possess a thing with the intention of using it to inflict cruelty to animals. The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of $20,000 and imprisonment of 1 year.

Shooting, Hunting or Fighting captive animals

Section 32 of the Act makes it an offence to take part in, spectate at, organise, promote or allow a prohibited activity to occur. Prohibited activities are activities where an animal is shot at, hunted, fought or chased by another animal. The maximum penalty for this offence is a fine of $50,000 and imprisonment for 5 years.


Under Section 20 of the Act, a person is not guilty of an offence if they were acting in self-defence or defence of another person or animal and used no more force than was reasonably necessary. However, this defence cannot be used if the person was engaged in an unlawful act at the time the act of cruelty occurred or if the person provoked the animal to attack.

Enforcement of the Law

The provisions relating to cruelty to animals offences are usually enforced by RSPCA inspectors and the Livestock Compliance Unit, who respond to complaints of cruelty to animals and carry out compliance and enforcement actions in Western Australia. If you have been charged for an act of cruelty against any animal, you should immediately seek legal advice to see what your options are in light of such an action.