What is animal cruelty and what's the maximum sentence? Law explained as Kurt Zouma's cats removed by RSPCA

West Ham United defender Kurt Zouma has had his cats taken away from him, after a video emerged of him slapping and kicking one of the animals.

An RSPCA spokesperson said the cats had been taken into its care and that it was continuing to investigate the incident. A legal complaint has also been filed against Zouma in his native France.

More than 150,000 people have signed an online petition demanding Zouma be prosecuted, while West Ham have said they’ll donate two weeks of the player’s wages – totalling £250,000 – to animal charities.

But what exactly counts as animal cruelty in the UK, how is it defined – and what’s the maximum punishment for it?

READ MORE: Kurt Zouma has two cats seized by RSPCA after video kicking them

What is animal cruelty and how is it defined?

Animal cruelty is the failure to meet an animal’s welfare needs and protect it from avoidable suffering. It may therefore take the form of neglect as well as deliberate abuse.

If an animal is subjected to an unsuitable or inadequate diet (or simply deprived of food and water), forced to endure poor living conditions or deliberately harmed, this constitutes animal cruelty and could result in prosecution.

All vertebrates which are looked after by people are protected by animal cruelty law. Spiders and insects are not, although some insects may be protected by wildlife protection law.

Is animal cruelty a crime?

Animal cruelty is a criminal offense in the UK. The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 imposed a duty of care to take all reasonable steps to ensure animals’ welfare needs are met.

Owners must provide animals with a suitable diet and environment, suitable housing with (or separate from) other animals, enable them to display normal behavioral patterns, and protect them from pain, suffering, injury and diseases.

Enforcement agencies like the RSPCA may intervene in suspected cases of animal cruelty to advise owners where an animal is being mistreated.

Owners who fail to act on the advice provided to them by enforcement authorities are likely to be subject to a formal warning or prosecution.

What is the maximum sentence for animal cruelty?

In the UK, the maximum sentence for animal cruelty now stands at five years’ imprisonment. It was previously six months, but was raised by the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act in 2021.

How to report animal cruelty

You can report suspected cases of animal cruelty by contacting the RSPCA’s cruelty and advice line on 0300 1234 999. The line is open from 7am to 10pm, seven days a week.

However, the RSPCA says it is unable to accept anonymous reports.

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