The legal status of cats in Ireland: Pete the Vet on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

Cats have a different status to dogs in Irish society and under Irish law. To find out more, listen to this podcast.

Cats in Ireland

Pet cats are well protected in Irish law. Under the Animal Health and Welfare Act 2014, cats, just like dogs, are  “protected animals”, which are defined as “any creatures in the possession or under the control of a human being”, whether permanently or on a temporary basis.

This means that if you are looking after a cat, you have a legal duty to protect its welfare. You must take all necessary steps to ensure that the cat is kept and treated in a manner which safeguards its health and welfare. You have to provide adequate food, water and shelter, and you must take precautions to protect the health of the cat. It’s against the law to allow a cat to fall ill and to fail to seek treatment. You also have a responsibility to ensure that you do not leave a cat unattended without making adequate provisions for its welfare. Finally, it’s an offence to abandon an animal. You cannot just “stray” a cat because you don’t want it any more.

In contrast, if a cat is living  “in a wild state”, then they are no longer classified as a “protected animal”. This is logical: by definition, it is impossible for any animal in the wild to be under control of a human being. Who could be held accountable for housing, feeding and caring for a free-living cat in the wild? However, although feral cats are not “protected”, this only means that nobody has a duty to care for them. Feral cats are still protected from cruelty, just like all other animals in Ireland.

To spell it out explicitly, under Irish law, any act, or failure to act, that causes unnecessary suffering or endangers the health and welfare of any animal is an offence.

Regardless of their legal status, the best answer for feral cat colonies is for them to be managed properly by humans,  with Trap-Neuter-Release schemes to control population levels so that there’s enough food and shelter for all. To find out more about how these schemes work, visit


Questions from listeners


  1. My thirteen week old puppy is afraid of some situations but he refuses to eat the treats I offer him to reassure him. What can I use that he will like?
  2. My dog is very aggressive to large black Poodles, but is friendly to all other dogs. Why is this?
  3. I feed a fox every morning in my garden. Is this OK?
  4. My male Papillon has nipped at us a few times, for no reason. What can we do?
  5. We have a dog that continually licks the floor and stares at the ground shaking, especially when he hears the oven bleeping or when we come home. We think it’s anxiety. What can we do?

To find out Pete’s answers, listen to the podcast below

Listen to the podcast:

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  • Denis mcdonald says:

    Do cats need a licence.

    Regards denis

  • Siobhan Carolan says:

    My neighbours cat roams, but has taken a liking to our house. We cannot leave a window open as he jumps in and my daughter is petrified of cats. I’ve contacted the owner and asked her if she could try, in any way possible to stop her cat from entering my property, the garden is bad enough where he poos but my house is out of bounds. She tells me I’ m being unreasonable as cats can roam freely in Ireland. That may be the law but they cant roam in my house, particularly when my daughter is petrified of them. I told her, if she refuses to do anything I will report the cat to authorities – my thinking being, if it continues to roam or get into my house its a stray, not being looked after and the ISPCA should get involved. Can you advise me please?

    • petethevet says:

      This is difficult Siobhan. I suspect that your neighbour is correct, but at the same time you would hope that she would understand that this bothers you, and that there might be some way that she could remedy the issue (such as agreeing to keep her cat in at certain times, at least). The ISPCA would not see their role in this at all, I’m afraid, as it is not a cruelty issue. Can you maybe build a barrier of some kind to stop the cat coming in?

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