Companion Animals: Owners' Liability Under the Law

December 24, 2020Zihao Yu


Animals are not things, they are usually recognized as personal property and are protected under property laws. On the other side, people feel different towards animals and things as they are living things. Especially for companion animals, people treat them as friends or a part of their family members with human-animal emotional bonds. The owners of companion animals have liabilities for the animal according to different sources of laws, including property law, tort law, animal welfare law, anti-cruelty law, or other animal regulations. This article will analyze the animal owner’s liabilities and the laws and regulations in different jurisdictions in Asia.

Owner’s Liabilities

Property Law

Animals can cause damage to the public and other people. There are restrictions on animal owners for their animals.

Some types of animals are too dangerous to become legal to be owned as companion animals, such as some exotic animals or wildlife animals, or some types of dogs such as Pitbull terrier, Japanese tosa, Dogo Argentino, and Fila Braziliero. (Four dog breeds banned in the UK.) Keeping exotic animals — lions, tigers, wolves, bears, reptiles, and non-human primates as pets or companion animals itself poses a lot of risks to public safety for attacking neighbors and passersby and to human health by zoonotic diseases, such as Herpes B, Monkey Pox, and Salmonellosis. Exotic animals are not suitable for being companion animals as they need special care and treatment according to their nature, and training them always along with cruelty and potential safety risks. (The Danger of Keeping Exotic Pets)

For some species of “dangerous” animals, the owner shall prevent their animals from harming the public or causing the risk to the public. When the owner carries their companion animals to public places or during transportation, there are rules on leashes, harnesses, or cages for certain types of animals. Private businesses can also prohibit animals from entering their facilities if they are not suitable for service animals or emotional support animals. (Read more at Service Animals.)

Tort Law

The tort claims are on two sides. One is animals cause damage to others, another is animals are harmed or injured by other people or animals. Conflicts can arise between the pet owner and any person related to the animal including veterinarians, pet groomers, boarding facilities, pet hotels, horse trainers, dog owners, dog fosters, dog walkers, automobile drivers, horse riders, bicyclists, or neighbors. The owner shall pay attention to the animals so that they do not harm other people and they are not harmed by other people. Most of the harm to the animals is within the scope of negligent acts or intentional torts, and their owners shall have a reasonable duty of care for the animals.

Animal Control Law

The owner of companion animals shall obey the rules for animal control for public safety and health considerations. The rules are about the license and permit to obtain, hold, and sell the animal, the vaccine for rabies and other diseases, the control of animals, and the nuisance prohibition. (Read more at the Model Animal Control Law or Model Dog and Cat Control Ordinance)

Animal Welfare Law

According to the five domains’ model of animal welfare, nutrition, environment, health, behavior, and mental state of the companion animals shall be protected and ensured by the animal owners. The law may be with regard to animal population control, humane euthanasia, relocation, and adoption, etc. (Read more at Animal Welfare: Companion Animals)

Anti-cruelty Law

All States of the U.S. have an anti-cruelty provision for criminal liabilities including some felonies for animal torture. These laws are designed to protect animals from the harm of their owners and regulate the activities of using animals for cruelty such as dogfighting and cockfighting. Animal abuse and neglect shall be reported and the police will be involved in ensuring the animal owner is following their duties for animals, otherwise, their animals might be relocated to an animal shelter.

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Owner's Liabilities in Asia

In Hong Kong, there is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance. Abusing animals, neglecting animals without adequate and sufficient food, water, shelter, and necessary veterinary care, inappropriate transport with unnecessary suffering, and animal fighting are prohibited in “Penalty for cruelty to animals.” (Article 3) Besides, the Dogs and Cats Ordinance regulates animal control.

In Macau, the Animal Protection Law came into force in 2016. The Law prohibits and punishes “cruelty and violence towards and the torture of animals and subjecting animals to suffering.” “Animal owners are in general prohibited from abandoning their pets and must provide food, drinking water, sufficient space for free movement, proper living conditions, and necessary preventive and medical care to animals.” This also includes animal control and criminal liability for abusing animals. The Animal Epidemic Prevention Law came into force in 2020.

In Taiwan, the Animal Protection Act was published in 1998 and amended in 2018, which is designed for the respect for animal lives and animal protection. The Act sets the liability for an animal owner for providing proper, clean, and harmless food as well as adequate and clean water, providing a proper living environment, providing necessary precautions against infectious animal diseases, preventing the animal from harassment, abuse, or injury, providing adequate room for a caged pet with sufficient out-of-cage activities, and providing other proper care, etc. (Article 5.2) Article 6 prohibits the action of harassing, abusing or injuring any animal. Article 10 prohibits animal fighting and using animals for direct/indirect gambling, and Article 11 sets the necessary medical care duty for animal owners. Article 12 prohibits the action of killing animals without due cause unless in the exceptions of Article 12.1, and Article 13 sets the requirement for the killing in Article 12.1 as “Anyone killing animals for reasons in Clause 12.1 shall do so in a humane way to minimize animals’ pain.”


In Japan, the main animal welfare law is the 1973 Act on Welfare and Management of Animals, which provides major protection for the animals in Japan, including animal welfare and anti-cruelty. The fundamental principle of this Act is to recognize animals as living beings, no person shall create unnecessary cruelty to animals, and animals shall be provided proper care and habitat, to let people and animals live together. This Act establishes the responsibilities of animal owners for proper breeding and habitat to maintain health and safety. The animal owner shall maintain the living environment for the animals. There are also Regulations for animal handling businesses, Regulations for caring for dangerous animals and Taking custody of dogs and cats. The penal provisions regulate the act of killing or injuring the protected animals without reason, neglecting to give food and/or water to protected animals abandoning protected animals, keeping a dangerous animal without permission, or operating animal handling businesses without registration.


In South Korea, the Animal Protection Act 1991 is designed for animal control, preventing animal cruelty, and enhancing animal welfare. Cruelty to animals in South Korea is punished by imprisonment with labor for up to 1 year or a 10 000 000 won fine (1000 won = 0.85 US dollars). The abandonment of an animal is punished by a fine in the amount of up to 1 000 000 won. The original law imposed obligations on owners and keepers of animals to provide them with appropriate food and water and to endeavor to ensure that animals receive adequate rest and care.


In Bangladesh, the Cruelty to Animals Act, of 1920 (repealed on the official website) to prevent cruelty to animals in Bangladesh. Section 4-12 penalizes the activities of cruelty to animals and for sale of animals killed with unnecessary cruelty, killing an animal with unnecessary cruelty, etc.

In the Maldives, Penal Code of the Maldives (2014), Section 625 is the Cruelty to Animals. Cruelly mistreating an animal or neglecting an animal in custody is considered the offense of a Class 3 misdemeanor, except for accepted veterinary practices or accepted procedures for carrying on scientific research. Section 412 prohibits the act of unlawful sexual contact with animals.


In Sri Lanka, there is the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance (Cap. 573, Cruelty to Animals). Any person who (a) cruelly beat, ill-treat, override, abuse or torture, or cause or procure to be cruelly beaten, ill-treated, overridden, abused or tortured; (b) by any act or omission cause unnecessary pain or suffering to any animal; or (c) convey or carry, ...animal to unnecessary pain or suffering shall be guilty of an offense and be punished with a fine or with imprisonment to at most 3 months or with both. (Art 2) If an animal is found in any place suffering pain because of starvation, mutilation, or other ill-treatment, the owner will be guilty of an offense. (Art 3) There is a penalty for killing animals with unnecessary cruelty (Art 4) and a penalty for permitting diseased animals to die in any street (Art 7).

In Indonesia, a law on Husbandry and Animal Health 2009 (Law 18), applies to companion animals for reasonable treatment and tender care, and Article 83(2) of Regulation No. 95 Concerning Public Health and Animal Welfare sets the requirement that animals have freedom from hunger and thirst, from pain, injury, and disease, from discomfort, persecution, and abuse, from fear and distress, and to express their natural behavior.


In Malaysia, the Animal Welfare Act (2015) (Act 772) is aimed to promote the welfare and responsible ownership of animals. Animals shall be provided with the need for a suitable environment, and a suitable diet, to be able to exhibit their normal behavior patterns, to be housed with or apart from other animals, be protected from pain, suffering, injury, and disease. (Section 24(1)(a)) Part V Cruelty to Animals provides the regulation on cruelty offenses, restriction on the killing of animals, regulation on poisons, and regulation on animal fighting ventures.


However, not all jurisdictions have the law and regulations for companion animals. Some of them only have regulations for animal control or disease prevention, without mentioning the owner’s responsibilities for animals, for instance, in Afghanistan, there is a law on animal control and public health. Merely treating companion animals as a sort of property. Some jurisdictions do not regulate companion animals. For example, Iran does not have legislation on the welfare of companion animals, and in India, domestic animals have little to no comparable legal protections. In mainland China, there is no law on the protection of animal welfare for domestic animals. There are local regulations on dog raising such as Beijing Municipal Dog Raising Management Regulations. The local regulations are not stable and the concept of regulation is changing with the development of society.

(More to read: Beijing's dog-raising regulations have changed in the past 20 years: from prohibition to restriction to relaxation)



Companion animals are recognized as personal properties but they can be our friends or family members and they are not “things” like a table. The treatment of animals shall ensure their own needs for animal welfare and avoid abuse and neglect. Some Laws in Asian jurisdictions do not regulate the responsibilities of the companion animal’s owner. For those jurisdictions with the regulation, they shall pay attention to the enforcement and effectiveness of the laws.

To learn more about the protection of animals in Asian countries, see our Projects page.

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