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Communtity Law Manual | Neighbourhood life | Dogs and other animals

Dogs and other animals

Rules for all pets and domestic animals

Caring for your pets: An owner’s responsibilities

Animal Welfare Act 1999, ss 4, 10

Everyone who keeps pets or other animals on their property must make sure the animals’ physical, health and “behavioural” needs are met. This means making sure that:

  • they have enough clean fresh water and enough proper food to maintain good health and weight
  • they have adequate shelter
  • they’re not handled in a way that causes them unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress
  • they’re protected from significant injury or disease, and they’re given prompt treatment by a vet if they need it
  • they have opportunities for normal patterns of behaviour – for example, adequate exercise and play.

Those requirements apply to anyone in charge of an animal, not just the owner.

Specific codes of welfare for different types of animals

Animal Welfare Act 1999, Part 5;

As well as the general requirements under the Animal Welfare Act (see above), there are also more detailed codes of welfare for specific kinds of animals, including for: pet cats (“companion cats”); dogs (both pets and working dogs); goats; pigs; and layer hens. These codes also recommend best practice for caring for the animals.

Animal Welfare Act 1999, s 13

Unlike Acts and regulations, these codes aren’t legally binding on you. But if you haven’t met a code’s minimum standards for caring for your animals, this will be evidence against you if you’re charged under the Animal Welfare Act with failing to provide proper care.

How the animal welfare laws are enforced

Animal Welfare Act 1999, ss 10–12, 25

Poor treatment of an animal can lead to criminal charges. For example, SPCA inspectors bring criminal prosecutions for:

  • failing to provide an animal with adequate food, water and shelter
  • failing to get necessary treatment from a vet
  • deliberate acts of cruelty.

The maximum penalties are severe: you can be jailed for up to 12 months or fined up to $50,000, or both.

Animals causing damage or a nuisance

In general, the law recognises that people have a right to keep pets and domestic animals.

In some situations, however, there may be problems because of the number or type of animals or the noise or smell they make. If animals affect a neighbour in a way that’s significant and unreasonable, this may amount to a legal “nuisance” (under the law of “private nuisance”), and the neighbour may be able to take legal action in the courts or the Disputes Tribunal.

Health Act 1956, ss 29–34

If domestic animals are being noisy, smelly, or doing something else that creates a health risk, the local council can come onto the property to deal with the problem. Criminal charges can also be brought for a Health Act nuisance, with fines of up to $500 plus $50 a day while the offence continues.

For example, Part 2 of the Wellington Consolidated Bylaw 2008 (; Auckland Animal Management Bylaw 2015 (

Most local councils have bylaws covering the keeping of domestic animals in towns and cities. For example, Wellington City Council says you can have no more than eight chickens without getting written permission from the Council, while Auckland Council limits the number to six (not including roosters) for all urban properties smaller than 2,000 square metres (half an acre). Restrictions can vary from council to council.

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