Cats, trespass and fouling

What does the law say?

Unlike most animals, cats have a ‘right to roam’. There are no specific laws aimed at cats fouling on land. However, nuisance laws may assist where a complaint or dispute arises.

Cat owners also have a common law duty to take reasonable steps to ensure their cats do not cause damage to someone’s property or cause injury to anyone.

Cats cannot ‘trespass’

The law relating to trespass in the context of domestic animals is found in the Animals Act 1971. However, cats enjoy a unique position as the Animals Act 1971 does not apply to them. This is how cats have this ‘right to roam’ and they cannot, therefore, trespass in the legal sense. Therefore, an owner cannot be legally responsible for where their cats go.

The law of nuisance

Nuisance laws protect property owners where the enjoyment of their land or property is being unreasonably interfered with. Where cats are kept in such a manner or in such circumstances that cause material discomfort or annoyance to the public in general (a public nuisance); or to a particular person (private nuisance), the keeping of such animals may amount to a nuisance – and legal action can be taken.

Under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, a local authority has the power to prosecute a person where an animal is “kept in such a place or manner as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance”.

Where an individual is subjected to a private nuisance, court proceedings can be brought in the County Court or the High Court for damages and/or an injunction.

The courts will decide whether, in a particular case, the keeping of the cats, or the circumstances in which they have been kept, amounts to a nuisance for the purposes of the law. Since the law of nuisance only applies where there is “material” discomfort or annoyance, the courts are unlikely to grant an injunction in relation to a nuisance of fouling by cats unless the fouling is on a substantial scale; for example, where a very large number of cats are kept by one individual.

Anti-social behaviour orders

The keeping of animals can result in an anti-social behaviour order (‘ASBO’) if the Magistrates’ Court is persuaded that the defendant has acted in an anti-social manner. However, the magistrates are unlikely to grant an ASBO in relation to the fouling by cats, unless the fouling is on a substantial scale.

Is there anything else I can do?

If court action is not possible, there are a number of steps you can take to deter cats fouling on your land. This includes planting prickly plants; using scents such as orange, peppermint, and eucalyptus; spraying bitter apple; and using electronic deterrents designed to keep cats away from a specific area.

What can’t I do?

You must not do anything to harm a cat. Under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 it is a criminal offence to ill-treat any animal. It is also a criminal offence under the Protection of Animals Act 1911 and the Animal Welfare Act 2006 to administer poison, dangerous drugs or substances to an animal; and under the Animal Welfare Act 2005 it is a criminal offence to allow a cat to suffer unnecessarily.

Interestingly, a cat is treated by the law as goods. Therefore, the taking of a cat from its owner may amount to theft.

Article written by...
Nicola Laver LLB
Nicola Laver LLB

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A non-practising solicitor, Nicola is also a fully qualified journalist. For the past 20 years, she has worked as a legal journalist, editor and author.