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Cruelty to Animals (WA)

The Animal Welfare Act 2002 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 RSPCA and the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.  

Cruelty to animals

Section 19 of the Animal Welfare Act makes cruelty to animals an offence. Cruelty to animals includes:

  • torturing, mutilating, beating, wounding, abusing, tormenting or mistreating an animal;
  • using a prescribed inhumane device (such as jawed traps, sharpened spurs or a device designed to deliver an electric shock) on an animal;
  • poisoning an animal;
  • in any other way causing harm to an animal.

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

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

Possess thing intended to inflict cruelty

Section 31 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 or imprisonment for one year.

Shooting, hunting or fighting captive animals

Section 32 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 Animal Welfare Act provides for various defences to charges under Section 19 and 31.


Under Section 20, 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.

Veterinary care

Under Section 21, a person is not guilty of an offence if they were carrying out veterinary care in accordance with accepted veterinary practices.

Authorised by law

Under Section 22, a person is not guilty of an offence if they were authorised by law to do the act and did the act in a humane manner.

Normal animal husbandry

Under Section 23, a person is not guilty of an offence if the act was done in accordance with accepted animal husbandry practices and in a humane manner.

Killing pests

Under Section 24, a person is not guilty of an offence is the act was done in an attempt to kill pests in a manner that is generally accepted and with reasonable steps taken to ensure that animals that are not pests were not harmed.

Code of practice

Under Section 25, a person is not guilty of an offence if they were acting in accordance with a relevant code of practice, such as the Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals Livestock at Slaughtering Establishments.

Other defences

It is also a valid defence to show that the act consisted of no more than allowing stock to roam at large and fend for itself (Section 26) or of releasing an animal into the wild in circumstances where it could reasonably be expected to fend for itself (Section 27).


The provisions relating to cruelty to animals offences are enforced by RSPCA inspectors and the Livestock Compliance Unit, who respond to complaints of cruelty to animals and carry out compliance and enforcement actions.

Scientific use of animals

In Western Australia, animals cannot be used for scientific purposes unless this is done in accordance with the Animal Welfare Act, the Animal Welfare (Scientific Purposes) Regulations 2003 and with a license issued under the act. The licensee must comply with the Australian Code for the Care and Use of Animals for Scientific Purposes.

Law reform

The Animal Welfare Act was reviewed in 2015. In 2017, the act was amended to incorporate the national Standards and Guidelines for Land Transport of Livestock (2012) The changes brought Western Australia into line with other states and territories in respect of transportation of livestock.

Animal advocates in Western Australia continue to lobby for an end to the suffering of animals for the benefits of humans and have called for a ban on all live exports, abolition of the use of battery hens, and an end to factory farming.

If you require legal advice or representation in any legal matter please contact Go To Court Lawyers.


Fernanda Dahlstrom

Fernanda Dahlstrom has a Bachelor of Laws from Latrobe University, a Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice from the College of Law, a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Melbourne and a Master of Arts (Writing and Literature) from Deakin University. Fernanda practised law for eight years, working in criminal defence, child protection and domestic violence law in the Northern Territory. She also practised in family law after moving to Brisbane in 2016.

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