Animal Cruelty Laws in Pennsylvania

Mistreating, neglecting, or abandoning animals, or tethering dogs outside under certain conditions can lead to criminal charges.

Updated: Jan 25th, 2023

Cruelty to animals is illegal in Pennsylvania, as it is across the country. The law in Pennsylvania is comprehensive and detailed, covering many different forms of mistreatment. Some of the legal provisions are specific to certain types of animals, including service dogs, homing pigeons, baby chicks, and zoo animals. Below, we’ve summarized the most important laws that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.

Laws Change, and Local Rules May Apply

Because states can change their laws at any time, it’s always a good idea to check the current statutes by using this search tool. Also, local municipalities may have their own regulations on dogs and other pets. Check with your city’s animal control department for information about these local rules.

What Is Considered Animal Cruelty in Pennsylvania?

In Pennsylvania, a person who intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly mistreats, beats, abandons, or abuses an animal commits animal cruelty. Penalties for animal cruelty range from fines to time behind bars for a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the level of the offense.

Punishment for Animal Cruelty

Animal cruelty is a summary offense, punishable by up to a $750 fine and 90 days in jail. However, the penalty increases to a second-degree misdemeanor if the abuse causes the animal bodily injuries or places the animal at risk of serious bodily injury. A person convicted of a second-degree misdemeanor faces up to two years in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Punishment for Aggravated Cruelty to Animals

The crime becomes a third-degree felony if the animal dies or is seriously injured or tortured. A third-degree felony carries penalties of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine.

Surrendering the Animal to Authorities

In addition to other penalties after a conviction for animal cruelty, the court may order the defendant to surrender the mistreated animal. That surrender becomes mandatory in the case of felony cruelty. The court may also prohibit the abuser from having any other animals for a period of time.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 5533, 5534, 5550, 5554, 5555 (2022).)

What Is Considered Animal Neglect in Pennsylvania?

Pennsylvania also outlaws neglecting any animals in your custody by not providing for their basic needs, including:

  • necessary food and drinkable water
  • access to protection from the weather and clean shelter that allows the animals to stay dry and retain their normal body temperature, and
  • needed veterinary care.

The penalties for neglect range from a summary offense to a third-degree misdemeanor, depending on the extent of the risk or resulting injuries. Third-degree misdemeanors carry punishments of up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 5532, 5534(a)(2) (2022).)

Does Pennsylvania Have Exceptions to Animal Cruelty and Neglect Laws?

Pennsylvania does not consider it to be animal neglect or cruelty when:

  • the activity was part of a normal agricultural operation
  • a licensed veterinarian performed the procedure, or
  • a puppy was not more than five days old for certain procedures, like dew clawing and tail docking.

What Are Pennsylvania’s Dog Laws?

In addition to animal neglect and cruelty laws, Pennsylvania addresses certain treatment specific to dogs.

Tethering Dogs Outside

When dogs are tethered unattended outdoors, Pennsylvania has set out detailed requirements, including the following.

  • The dog cannot be tethered for more than nine hours in a day—or more than 30 minutes if it’s hotter than 90 degrees or below freezing.
  • The dog must have access to water and shade.
  • The tether must be a certain type (no tow or log chains) and length, depending on the dog’s size and breed.
  • The tether must be attached to a well-fitted harness or collar (not a choke or pinch collar) with a mechanism that prevents tangles, like a swivel anchor.

Dog owners could be charged with animal neglect if they don’t follow these rules. Under some conditions—including open sores on the dog or too much waste in the area where it’s tethered—the law will assume that the animal was neglected unless the owner can prove otherwise. (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5536 (2022).)

Cropping, Docking, and Debarking Dogs

Certain procedures on a dog are considered animal cruelty if they aren’t done by a licensed vet with anesthesia, including:

  • ear cropping
  • tail docking
  • cutting the vocal cords, and
  • cesarean births.

This offense is considered animal mutilation.

(18 Pa. Cons. Stats. § 5542 (2022).)

Poisoning Dogs

Pennsylvanians can be fined for putting out poison or any harmful substance that a dog could easily find and ingest. If the poisoning was intentional, it’s a misdemeanor. (3 Pa. Stats. § 459-601(b), (b.1) (2022).)

Abandonment of Dogs

Anyone convicted of abandoning or attempting to abandon a dog must pay a fine of $300 to $1,000.

Number of Dogs (or Cats) You Can Own and Keep

Typically, local laws (not state) address how many pets you can own or keep on your property. Check out your city, county, or municipality’s ordinances to learn more.

Can You Rescue Pets From Cars in Pennsylvania?

State law allows rescue workers and certain officers (including law enforcement and animal control officers) to use force if needed to remove an endangered dog or cat from a locked car, without being legally responsible for any damage to the vehicle. The law does not extend this protection to individuals who try to rescue pets from cars.

Although Pennsylvania’s animal cruelty laws don’t specifically address leaving dogs or cats in hot or cold cars, pet owners who do so could presumably face animal neglect charges for not providing protection from the weather.

(42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8340.3 (2022).)

Organized Animal Fighting in Pennsylvania

It’s a felony of the third degree in Pennsylvania to participate in organized animal fighting in any way, from owning or training the animals to betting on a fight or simply attending as a spectator. A third-degree felony carries penalties of seven years in prison and a $15,000 fine. (18 Pa. Cons. Stats. § 5543 (2022).)

How to Report Animal Abuse in Pennsylvania

If you see or hear an animal that appears to be abused, mistreated, or neglected, speak with your local city or county animal control department or humane society. In Pennsylvania, humane society agents have the same authority as law enforcement to start criminal proceedings for animal cruelty or neglect. If you live in certain counties, you can use the SPCA’s website to report suspected abuse. (18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5551 (2022).)

Even if the owner’s behavior isn’t against the law, the humane society may be able to do something to correct the problem. You may also file a written complaint with law enforcement authorities. If you’re concerned about conditions at a puppy mill or pet shop, contact the nearest office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Speaking With a Lawyer

If you’ve been accused of animal cruelty—or you’re worried about possible charges—it’s a good idea to speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible.