The legislation in place before 2006 was the Protection of Animals Act 1911, which was very outdated and came from a time when animals had a very different role in society.
The Animal Welfare Act replaced this and has made some important updates, for example in relation to cruelty and fighting offences.
Most significantly for the first time it has introduced legislation for pet owners – giving them a legal duty of care to meet the five welfare needs of their pets.
9 Duty of person responsible for animal to ensure welfare
(1) A person commits an offence if he does not take such steps as are reasonable in all the circumstances to ensure that the needs of an animal for which he is responsible are met to the extent required by good practice.
(2) For the purposes of this Act, an animal’s needs shall be taken to include--
(a) its need for a suitable environment,
(b) its need for a suitable diet,
(c) its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns,
(d) any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and
(e) its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.
This means pet owners are now legally obliged to care for their pet properly, which most owners already do - by providing the five basic needs listed above
In order for it to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease dogs, cats, horses, rabbits & pigeons must be vaccinated
"Animals, just like humans, suffer from a range of infectious diseases. As veterinary medicine has advanced, prevention of disease has become a priority. One of the best means of prevention is by creating immunity in the animal. This is usually achieved by vaccination.......Vaccination also reduces the amount of pharmaceutical treatments (such as antibiotics) used to control established diseases and, in many instances, has prevented long term suffering and death"
The other way that owners are now obliged to keep up with is keeping their pets parasite free by regular worming and flea treatment.
Using the Animal Welfare Act, RSPCA inspectors can advise and educate pet owners about the five welfare needs, making them relevant to their pet.
If a need is not being met, the inspectors are able to serve an improvement notice, which will clearly detail what steps the owner needs to take - within a specific time period - to prevent an animal from suffering.
If the inspector’s advice is not followed, and the animal will suffer if left in that situation, they now have the support of the law to step in before the animal suffers.
The Codes provide detailed guidance for pet owners on how to meet the welfare needs of their animals, and this information can be used by a court to illustrate whether an owner has been complying with the Animal Welfare Act.
You can read the Codes of Practice in full at: www.defra.gov.uk