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Looking after pets

This advice applies to Scotland

Responsibilities of owning a pet

When you own a pet, you have a legal duty to look after and care for it. You must make sure it:

  • has a proper diet, including fresh water
  • has somewhere suitable to live
  • is exercised appropriately for its needs
  • is kept with or away from other animals, depending on its needs
  • is allowed to express itself and behave normally
  • is protected from, and treated for, illness and injury.

If you don't look after a pet properly, you could be fined, sent to jail or banned from owning animals.

If your pet causes noise problems, for example by barking for long periods of time, there are steps your neighbours can take. If you don't resolve a noise dispute with you neighbour, they can report you to the local council. Read more about noise disputes with neighbours

You can get advice about diet and exercise from the person or shop that you bought the animal from or from the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA). There are also guides for looking after your pets on the Blue Cross website.

Animal welfare codes that provide detailed advice and guidance to help you look after your dog, cat or rabbit are available on the Scottish government website.

Microchipping of dogs

All dogs over eight weeks old must have an identity microchip, unless a vet has said the dog is unfit to be microchipped because of health problems. Microchipping aims to ensure the dog's welfare and promote responsible ownership.

Dog owners must register their details in a database and keep this information up to date. Failure to do so can result in the dog being microchipped at the owner's expense and/or a fine being imposed. Read more about microchipping on the website.

Pet insurance

Caring for a pet involves getting help from a vet from time to time, for example for routine health checks or because the animal has had an accident or is ill. There are many pet healthcare schemes which can save you a lot of money on vets’ bills if your pet becomes ill.

If you're on a low income, you might be able to get help with healthcare from the local People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

There's useful information about choosing and finding pet insurance from the Money Saving Expert website.

Finding a vet

Registered vets

All vets must be registered with the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. This is the professional body responsible for vet registration and the standards, ethics and discipline of the vet profession.

You can search for a registered vet on the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons website.

Most phone directories list the names and addresses of local vets. Pet shops might also be able to give you information about vets.

If you're unhappy with the service provided by a vet, there are steps you can take. Read more about complaining about a vet.

If you're on a low income

If you can't afford vets' charges, you might be able to get help from an animal welfare organisation like the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA).

Help looking after your pet

There might be times when you're temporarily unable to look after your pet - for example, if you're ill, going into hospital, escaping domestic abuse or are homeless. If there's no one you can ask to look after your pet for you, a number of charities might be able to help. You could also ask your vet for advice.

If you're admitted to hospital or placed in a local authority residential care or nursing home, your local council has a duty to take care of your pet, although you might have to pay for any costs of temporary shelter for your pet.

Useful organisations

The Pet Fostering Service Scotland (PFSS) can help with emergency short-term care of a pet for anyone who's temporarily unable to look after their pet due to ill health, homelessness or domestic abuse. They might also be able to help if somebody is sent to prison and can no longer look after their pet.

If you need a temporary home for your pet and can't afford boarding fees or any other care, the PFSS will try to help. The service relies on volunteers who have been through an assessment process to look after the pet in their own home.

Pet Fostering Service Scotland (PFSS)
PO Box 6
FK17 8ZU

Tel: 0344 811 9909 (lines open every day, 9am to 7pm)

The Cinnamon Trust has a network of volunteers to provide help such as walking a dog for an owner who can no longer do so. It offers a pet fostering service for a pet whose owner goes into hospital and provides long-term care for a pet whose owner has died or moved into accommodation that doesn't accept pets. The trust maintains a register of pet-friendly care homes and sheltered housing schemes.

Cinnamon Trust
10 Market Square
TR27 4HE

Tel: 01736 757 900
Fax: 01736 757 010

The People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) is a charity that offers free and cheaper services to eligible pet owners who get certain benefits.

People's Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA)
Head Office
Whitechapel Way

Helpline: 0800 731 2502 (Mon-Fri 9.00am-5.00pm)
Tel: 01952 290 999
Fax: 01952 291 035

Dog-walking services

Sometimes you might need to use a dog-walking service because your circumstances have changed. Most dog-walking services are run as commercial businesses. Dog walkers must observe the laws on dog fouling and keeping control of a dog.

In some local council areas, there might be more regulations about where a dog can be walked and how many dogs can be walked at one time. Check your local council for any local regulations about dog-walking services.

If you can no longer look after your pet

If your circumstances change and you're no longer able to look after your pet, it's an offence to abandon an animal, and you could be jailed or fined if you do so. If there's no one you can ask to take over the care of your pet, the following charities offer specialist rehoming services.

The Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) is Scotland's animal welfare charity. If you're no longer able to look after your pet, the SSPCA might be able to help find your pet a new home.

Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA)
Kingseat Road
KY11 8RY

Animal helpline: 0300 099 9999
Website: contact form

Blue Cross offers a Home Direct Scheme, which rehomes pets directly from one home to another. It also operates the Pets into Care Scheme for people who are worried that their pet will outlive them.

Blue Cross
Shilton Road
OX18 4PF

Tel: 01993 822651
Fax: 01993 823083

If you're worried about your pet outliving you

You might be worried about what will happen to your pet if it outlives you. If there's no one you can ask to take care of your pet if you die first, the Pets into Care Scheme run by Blue Cross might be able to help.

Find out more about the Pets into Care Scheme on the Blue Cross website.

Travelling with pets

If you're going abroad, you might be able to take your pet with you. The country you're visiting will have its own rules about quarantine and vaccinations. To find out more, you should contact the country's embassy or consulate. You can find contact details of embassies and consulates in the UK on the UK government website.

Read more about pet travel to Europe from 1 January 2021 on GOV.UK.

Horse passports

You must have a horse passport for every horse, pony or donkey that you own. You must have the passport by 31 December in the year of its birth or six months after it was born, whichever is later. If you're selling or destroying a foal, you might have to get the passport earlier than this.

You have to keep the passport with the horse whenever it travels. This could be to the vet, to a competition or to sell it.

You can find out more about horse passports on the Scottish government website.

Making sure your pet is looked after while you're away

You'll need to make sure your pet is looked after if you go away, for example on holiday or to hospital for a long time. If a family member, neighbour or friend can't help look after your cat or dog, you could contact a local kennel or cattery.

It might also be possible to use the services of a pet minder who will look after your pet in your own home while you're away. You should be able to find details of these in your local phone directory, or ask your vet.

Dangerous pets

You need a licence to keep an animal that can cause injury or damage, for example a poisonous snake or an alligator. You can get a licence from the local council's environmental health department. It can refuse to give you a licence if it doesn’t think you're capable of controlling the animal or you're not providing suitable escape-proof accommodation. Read more about dangerous wild animals.

Dangerous dogs

It's an offence for a dog to be out of control in any place. If you keep a dog to protect your home, you don't have to put up a warning notice about it, but if the dog attacks someone, you could be prosecuted for having a dangerous animal. A court can order a dog to be muzzled, kept on a lead or destroyed.

The local council can issue you with a dog control notice if your dog is out of control. The notice can have conditions that have to be met. If your dog injures someone, they can make a claim against you for compensation, even if you're not prosecuted.

If you have a trained guard dog protecting business premises, there should be clear notices warning that guard dogs are on the premises, and the dog should be under the control of a dog handler or securely tethered.

More useful information

Read more about vets and pets.

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