About the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Legislation

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986 (POCTA Act) aims to prevent cruelty to animals, encourage considerate treatment of animals and improve community awareness about preventing cruelty to animals.

The POCTA Act applies to all vertebrate species other than humans (mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles), certain crustaceans (lobster, crabs, crayfish) and in some circumstances cephalopods (octopi, squid, cuttlefish, nautilus).

The Minister for Agriculture has portfolio responsibility for the POCTA legislation. It consists of the POCTA Act, POCTA Regulations 2019, POCTA Domestic Fowl Regulations 2016 and Codes of Practice.

The POCTA Act is the principal legislation for the welfare of all animals. It specifies offences for cruelty and aggravated cruelty including any act or omission where unreasonable pain or suffering is caused or where there is a failure to provide appropriate food, water, shelter or veterinary treatment. Cruelty offences also include behaviours such as wounding, overworking or tormenting, overcrowding, abandonment and poisoning.

The POCTA Act sets requirements for certain activities to prevent cruelty and protect animals used in those activities. These include:

  • Sale and use of electronic devices on animals
  • Operating rodeos and rodeo schools
  • Sale and use of animal traps
  • Transport of dogs on motor vehicle trays
  • Breeding animals with heritable defects
  • Use of animals in research and teaching

The POCTA Act prohibits some activities, procedures and devices to protect the welfare of animals.

Prohibited procedures that are only permitted to be done by a veterinary practitioner, and only for therapeutic purposes, include:

  • Cropping the ears of a dog
  • Docking the tail of a dog or horse
  • Griding, clipping or shearing of sheep teeth
  • De-clawing of cats
  • Removing the venom sacs of reptiles

Procedures and activities that are specifically prohibited under the POCTA Act include:

  • Thermocautery (firing) of horses
  • Baiting and luring
  • Trap shooting
  • Organised animal fighting
  • Sale and use of prong collars
  • Debarking of dogs (only permitted to be done by a veterinary practitioner and in accordance with the Code of Practice for Debarking of Dogs)
  • Spaying an animal done by someone other than a veterinary practitioner

It is also an offence to allow a prohibited procedure to be carried out on an animal or to show or exhibit an animal on which a prohibited procedure has been conducted.

There are a number of exemptions built into the POCTA Act for activities undertaken in accordance with:

Exemptions do not permit cruelty to occur. Where people are not complying with the specific requirements of these other Acts, standards or codes they can still face prosecution for cruelty.

Investigating cruelty reports

Victoria Police officers and the following officers, where authorised by the Minister for Agriculture, have powers to investigate reports of non-compliance with the POCTA Act or Regulations:

If you witness cruelty or suspect cruelty is occurring, you can contact the relevant enforcement agency.

Learn more about how to report animal cruelty.

Penalties for offences

The POCTA Act sets out penalties for offences under the Act, including infringements. Animal control orders are also set out in the Act and can be imposed by a court.

A person who is found guilty of committing an act of cruelty under section 9 of the POCTA Act is liable to a penalty of up to 250 penalty units (600 penalty units for a body corporate) or up to 12 months imprisonment.

Where an act of aggravated cruelty occurs, when the cruelty offence results in the death of an animal or serious disablement, a person may be liable for a penalty of up to 500 penalty units (1200 for a body corporate) or imprisonment for up to 2 years.

The Act also includes separate penalties for specific offences.

Powers of inspectors that are authorised to investigate reports of cruelty are set under the POCTA Act. These include powers of entry, evidence collection, and seizure of animals.

Animals used in research and teaching

Part 3 of the POCTA Act ensures that animals used in research and teaching are treated as humanely as possible.

Learn more about regulation of the use of animals in research and teaching under part 3 of the POCTA Act here.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019

The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Regulations 2019 (the regulations) aim to protect the welfare of animals in Victoria. They operate under the POCTA Act and support the legislation to prevent or minimise harm through regulation of specific activities.

Regulated activities include:

  • transport and tethering of animals
  • pain relief for mulesing and overgrown wool on sheep
  • prohibited devices
  • household fruit netting
  • electronic devices including electronic collars
  • traps and oxy-LPG devices
  • rodeos and rodeo schools
  • use of animals in scientific procedures and teaching.

More information about the POCTA Regulations can be found here.

Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (Domestic Fowl) Regulations 2016

These regulations provide for the conditions under which domestic fowl (chickens) are housed including requirements for:

  • conditions for keeping domestic fowl
  • cage requirements for domestic fowl — kept for egg production including minimum cage floor areas
  • minimum floor areas for domestic fowl — kept for egg or meat production in non-cage systems
  • range requirements for domestic fowl

Version incorporating amendments as at 4 October 2016:

Page last updated: 14 Feb 2024