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Quick Summary of State Cat Laws

Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A.

Animal Legal & Historical Center
Publish Date:
Place of Publication: Michigan State University College of Law
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Quick Summary of State Cat Laws


State laws related to cats are limited in number and application. Apart from anti-cruelty laws, the majority of state laws address health issues, such as requiring cats to be vaccinated against rabies. The only states that have comprehensive “cat codes” are California, Maine, and Rhode Island. California mandates the minimum time for weaning kittens, yearly veterinary requirements, and holding periods for impounded cats. Maine addresses the seizure of stray cats and vaccination requirements. Rhode Island’s cat law is aimed at reducing the number of free-roaming and feral cats (cats that are wild and unsocialized), and is the only state that requires cats to be licensed.

Although most states try to reduce the number of free-roaming and feral cats by requiring cats that are adopted from pounds and shelters to be sterilized, states generally consider free-roaming and feral cats to be a local issue. Therefore, the burden has fallen on local governments to address the concerns associated with these cats, such as nuisance, trespass, property damage, and destruction of native wildlife.

State laws are generally focused on preventing cruelty to animals, preventing disease transmission by requiring cats to be vaccinated, and reducing the number of feral cats by requiring cats adopted from shelters to be sterilized. Local governments are left to deal with free-roaming and feral cats, and the problems associated with them.


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