Cat Laws

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Brief Summary of State Cat Laws
Cynthia Hodges, J.D., LL.M., M.A. (2010)


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.


Biological Overview of the Domestic Cat
Tony LaCroix (2006)

Felis silvestris catus is the scientific name for the domestic, or house cat, whose closest relative is the species Felis silvestris lybica , the African Wild Cat. Cats were first domesticated in Egypt about 4,000 years ago, see Pamela Jo Hatley, Feral Cat Colonies in Florida: The Fur and Feathers are Flying , 18 J. Land Use & Envtl. L. 441, 442 (2003), where they were highly regarded because they ate rats which ate supplies of grain. Cats often form wild colonies, in which they communicate with each other by use of up to one hundred different vocalizations, including purring, hissing, and clicking. .

The domestic cat covers a wide geographical range, from Antarctica to urban cities as well as temperate farmlands, and is the most popular pet animal in America. Shawn Gorman & Julie Levy, A Public Policy Toward Management of Feral Cats , 2 Pierce L. Rev. 157, 157 (2004). Cats in captivity typically live from fourteen to twenty years, while the oldest known cat lived to the age of 36. . Cats live longer if not permitted to go outdoors, where they are more prone to catch disease or become injured in a fight, and if they are spayed or neutered, thus eliminating the possibility of testicular or ovarian cancer, and reducing the risk of mammary cancer. .

Cats are athletic animals, which can reach running speeds of up to thirty miles per hour for short distances. . They have incredible vertical jump capabilities, able to clear a seven-foot fence from a stationary position. Id. They are also unique in that they do not have rigid collar bones, allowing them to pass through openings the size of their head. .  

Although treasured as companions in ancient Egypt as well as in the modern Western World, this is not the case in other areas, where cats are considered to be food, and treated much as are chickens and cattle in America. .  


Related articles

A Public Policy Toward the Management of Feral Cats, Shawn and Julie Levy Gorman, 2 Pierce L. Rev. 157 (June 2004).

Related cases

Table of Cases Dealing Generally with Cats

California Veterinary Medical Ass'n v. City of West Hollywood, --- Cal.Rptr.3d ----, 2007 WL 1793052 (Cal.App. 2 Dist.) .  This California case centers on an anti-cat declawing ordinance passed by the city of West Hollywood in 2003.  On cross-motions for summary judgment the trial court concluded West Hollywood's anti-declawing ordinance was preempted by section 460 and entered judgment in favor of the CVMA, declaring the ordinance invalid and enjoining further enforcement.  On appeal, however, this Court reversed, finding section 460 of the veterinary code does not preempt the ordinance. 


Related laws

Table of Cat Vaccination Requirement Laws (2012)

States with Specific Cat Codes :



Rhode Island

Table of state laws generally related to cats

In 2006, Rhode Island adopted a law ( RI ST § 4-24-3 ) that mandates the spaying/neutering of any cat over 6 months old unless the owner holds a license that allows breeding.

Pleadings available related to cats - Wysotski Complaint


Related Links

Web Center Links:

Feral Cats Topic Area

Feral Cats Legal Issues Topic Area

Pet Damages Topic Area

Spay/Neuter Topic Area

External Links:

The Humane Society of the United States - HSUS Statement on Free-Roaming Cats -

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) - Position Statement on Feral Cat Management -


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