Skip to content

The Pet Abduction Act 2024: Do you know the new law?

Alicia Hempsted
Written by  Alicia Hempsted
Kara Gammell
Reviewed by  Kara Gammell
10 min read
Updated: 03 Jun 2024

In 2024 the Pet Abduction Bill passed the final hurdle to become law, changing the law in England and Northern Ireland to impose harsher penalties on pet thieves. Learn the essentials and more in our article.

A bill to impose stiffer penalties for pet theft has become law, which means that anyone found guilty of stealing a pet in England or Northern Ireland will face up to five years in prison, a fine, or both.

Find out everything you need to know about the The Pet Abduction Act and what this new law means for pet owners.

What is the pet abduction act 2023/4?

The Pet Abduction Act is an adjustment to the law surrounding the prosecution of people found guilty of the abduction of a pet in England and Northern Ireland.

Previously pets were considered property under UK law, but the new law recognises cats and dogs as more than just inanimate objects.

The abduction of a pet is distressing and causes emotional harm not only to the owner but to the pet as well.

As such, the crime of abducting a pet is being treated more seriously and comes with harsher consequences.

This type of conviction is now considered a criminal offence, and anyone found guilty will face up to five years in prison, a fine, or both.

The Pet Abduction Bill was initially introduced in December 2023 and passed its third reading in the House of Lords 24th May 2024. The Bill received Royal Assent on the same day and was made an Act.

woman hugging dog

Why is the Pet Abduction Act a big deal?

The rise in pet ownership during the pandemic meant a correlating rise in money-making opportunities for thieves.

Many people quarantined at home during the 2020 lockdown turned to pets for companionship and as such the demand for dogs and cats increased.

The price of dogs especially during the pandemic shot up, meaning that opportunistic criminals could resell stolen dogs – especially purebreds – for a profit of hundreds or otherwise thousands of pounds.

The increase in pet thefts was noticeable enough that a specific government task force was launched in 2021 to investigate pet theft in the UK.

This taskforce found as many as 2,000 incidents of dog theft reported to the police across England and Wales during 2020.

The devastating impact of these thefts has been a real cause of concern for UK pet owners, with many people knowing at least one person affected by this terrible crime.

Lauren Chong, MoneySuperMarket’s pet expert and veterinary surgeon, said:

“For many people, our pets are part of our family, and the impact on an owners' health and wellbeing can be dramatic if a pet is suddenly taken from them. Unlike when a pet falls ill or is severely injured, when a pet goes missing, there is never any closure of what happened to their pet or if they will ever be reunited.

“Stolen dogs and cats will also experience fear and stress if separated from their family, and may even be used for backyard breeding, which is another part of the dark side of rising pet ownership and demand for purebreds.

“If your pet goes missing, it's worth checking if your pet insurance policy can help, such as covering advertising costs or rewards offered to help find them. To increase your chances of being reunited with a lost or stolen pet, make sure they are microchipped, which is also a legal requirement for all dogs and cats over 8 weeks (cats from 10 June 2024).”

What does this mean for UK pet owners?

While this new Act isn’t a total solution to the problem of pet abductions, it goes some way to deter potential thieves that have been targeting pets.

Now that the consequences of getting caught are much more severe, opportunistic thieves may be more likely to think twice about stealing pets over items that come with less risk.

The emphasis on the severity of this type of crime may also mean an increase in dedicated resources to catch and prosecute these types of criminals, whereas previously this type of crime may have been considered a lower priority.

In 2023, the Met Police reported that just six percent of stolen animals reported in London between January and November 2023 were recovered

The role of pet insurance

Pet insurance continues to be a valuable support for pet owners experiencing loss.

At the time of writing this article, 37 out of the 39 UK pet insurance providers that MoneySuperMarket work with offer some level of cover for loss of pets by theft1 – or offer protection for theft and straying as an optional cover.

Theft and loss cover as part of a pet insurance policy can help pet owners in several ways if their pet is lost.

It may cover the cost of an agreed reward for your pet’s recovery, advertising costs, and may provide you with a benefit if your pet isn’t recovered within a certain amount of time.

However, the cover offered by these providers varies greatly and some may only offer this cover with their most comprehensive pet insurance policies – usually lifetime insurance.

Other providers apply certain limits or terms to this cover, such as age limits or terms to the circumstances in which your pet went missing.

The vital differences in the terms of pet insurance policies are why it’s so important to look at the wording of your policy before you commit to buying.

But regardless of whether your cover is comprehensive, the benefits pet insurance can give to owners if their pet is abducted shouldn’t be overlooked.

How do pet owners protect their pets?

Here are a few steps you can take to protect your pets:

Collar and Microchip your pet

Microchipping your pet is an important step to recovering them if they are stolen or stray. It means that if a lost pet is recovered or if someone takes them to the vet, your personal details can be found when the pet is scanned.

While it has been written in law for some time that dogs in the UK should be microchipped, a new law also requires cats to be microchipped starting 10.

You should also collar your pet when they are outside of the house. Rather than having your pet’s name on their collar, common practice is to have the owner’s name along with your details.

A justified concern for many owners is that putting your pet’s name on their collars can give thieves an advantage, especially if your pet responds to their name.

Thieves may use your pet’s name to lure them away or to convince others that they are the owner.

Be careful of what you post online

While we all love sharing photos of our pets, be wary of how much information you give away online.

Social media is an incredible tool for thieves to gather information on you.

Looking at your social media, a potential thief can discover the breed of your pet, your address, the layout of your home, potential points of entry, and times when the home is likely to be empty.

To keep this information out of the hands of criminals, it’s a good idea to limit what information you share online, be considerate of any photos you share of your family and home, and limit who can view your information to people you know.

Keep your pets in sight

If you let your dog off-leash, you shouldn’t let them too far out of your sight and be mindful of anyone nearby that may be suspicious.

You can also protect your pet by training them to come to you when you call. The recall command for dogs is one of the most important skills to train for their safety and other people’s.

But the threat of pet abductions isn’t limited to your time outdoors. Many pets are stolen directly from their gardens, so before leaving your pet unattended you should consider who might be able to see or access them. It only takes a few seconds for a thief to snatch an unattended pet.

For additional resources around pet theft, Dogs Trust have a detailed guide of what to do if your pet is stolen and the Metropolitan Police offer extensive advice on how to protect your pet from theft.

1Accurate as of May 2024