Welfare Legislation

The Welfare of Animals Act, 2006.

The Welfare of Animals Act, 2006, the provisions of which are applicable to dogs, came into force in England on 6th April 2007.  The Act consolidates a considerable amount of previously enacted legislation and provides a general legal framework for the protection of animals, including dogs.  It imposes a duty of care on pet owners to provide for the basic needs of their pets, based on what are described as “the five freedoms (needs)”, viz:

The Welfare of Animals Act is an “enabling act” and provides the legal framework for the provision of secondary, often more detailed, regulations relating to specific aspects of the Act, for example, The Docking of Working Dogs’ Tails (England) Regulations, 2007.

Additionally, the Act allows the provision of Codes of Practice.

Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs.

The much awaited Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs, promulgated under The Animal Welfare Act, 2006, was published by DEFRA on 8th December, 2009, after an extensive consultation exercise with interested parties.

This Code of Practice explains the welfare needs of dogs and how owners can meet these needs.

It should be noted that although non-compliance with any of the provisions of the Code of Practice is not, in itself, an offence, the code can be used in court as evidence where prosecution is initiated in cases relating to poor welfare 

The text of the Code of Practice can be viewed/downloaded as a pdf file from the Defra web site:


Click the “Publications” tab in the toolbar at the top of the page.  On the new page type “Code of Practice for the Welfare of Dogs” in the “Contains” box and then click the displayed icon to view the Code of Practice.

Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act,1999.

Under the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Act,1999, the legal limit for the number of litters that may be bred from any bitch is six litters.  The Kennel Club has announced that from 2012 it will normally register no more than four litters from any one bitch because of concerns that the current legal limit can potentially be detrimental to a bitch’s welfare.

The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations, 2007.

The BTHG would like to thank Mrs E.Hargreaves, MRCVS, for her help in the preparation of this note which arose from a question relating to the removal of dew-claws.

The Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations, 2007 and the subsequent amendments, were “conferred” by section 5(4) of the Animal Welfare Act, 2006 - please note that different sets of regulations pertain to Scotland and the Principality.

Under the Animal Welfare Act, 2006, it is an offence to carry out any procedure that involves interference with the sensitive tissues or bone structure of an animal other than for medical reasons.  However, certain procedures are exempt from this ban because of recognised long-term welfare or management benefits providing the procedures are carried out in such a way that:

Removal of Dew-claws.

Removal of dew-claws is listed as a permitted procedure, i.e. it is still permissible under the Mutilations (Permitted Procedures) (England) Regulations.  The operation may be carried out by a veterinary surgeon OR by an experienced person but note that the regulations do not define what is meant by an “experience person”.  Moreover, veterinary surgeons are not legally obliged to carry out the procedure and may refuse to do so unless it is obviously necessary on welfare grounds, e.g. where, as a result of an accident, an adult dog has a badly torn dew-claw.

An anaesthetic must be administered except where the dog is a puppy whose eyes have not yet opened AND it is usually recommended that the procedure is carried out when the puppy is three days old.

Dew-claws, specifically those on the front legs, are firmly attached.  Removal is NOT a straight-forward procedure and “post operative” complications can occur.

However, dew-claws do occasionally occur on the hind legs.  These appear to serve no useful purpose and since they are usually loosely attached they are generally quite easy to remove.

Other than for cosmetic reasons, e.g. in short-haired breeds, the main reason put forward for dew-claw removal is to prevent the risk of accidental damage.  

As a generalisation, with Bedlington terriers, it is probably better to ensure that the dew-claw nails are regularly trimmed to minimise the risk of them growing back into the leg and to otherwise leave well alone.

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