The Pet Animals Act 1951 establishes a regulatory regime for “pet shops” under which local authorities (district and borough councils) are responsible for inspecting and licensing premises.
The Act does not restrict the definition of “pet shop” to establishments visited by potential customers as the ordinary meaning of “pet shop” would suggest. Section 7(1) of the Act defines “pet shop” to include:
(i) any premises from which a business of selling animals as pets is carried on, and
(ii) any premises in which animals are kept with a view to their being sold in the course of such a business.
This definition is broad enough to cover premises that merely hold animals that are in the pet supply chain.
The kinds of pet animals covered by the Act include “any description of vertebrate”. It therefore applies to a broad range of animals, including all mammals, birds, fish and reptiles. The word “pet” is not defined, but, in the case of cats and dogs, the Act relates to those sold or kept “wholly or mainly for domestic purposes". Animals sold or kept “for ornamental purposes” are also included.
When deciding whether to grant a license, local authorities must consider a number of issues such as:
a) the needs of the animals, such as suitable accommodation and food and water,
b) the welfare of the animals, including that they are not sold when they are too young,
c) the precautions that need to be taken to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, and
d) fire procedures.
The local authority is to specify conditions in the licenses that they grant to secure those objectives. Keeping a pet shop without a license and failing to comply with a license condition are criminal offenses.
The Act bans the selling of animals in public places and from market stalls. A subject of dispute between certain local authorities and animal welfare campaigners has been whether one-day exotic animal fairs are prohibited. These are events, typically held at leisure centers and racecourses, at which a number of breeders and dealers have stalls from which they sell animals. For more information, please see the detailed discussion.
The Act also bans the selling of pets to persons under twelve years of age.
Overview of the licensing and regulation of pet shops
Detailed discussion of the licensing and regulation of pet shops
Pet Animals Act 1951