Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Animal Definition:

A creature or living thing, other than human, being able to move of its own accord.

Related Terms: Domitae Naturae, Ferae Naturae, Domestic Animal, Mansuetae Naturae, Companion Animal, Wildlife, Animal Law, Sentient Being, Animal Rights

In Book 2 of his 1769 Commentaries on the Laws of England, William Blackstone distinguished animals as living things:

"... which have in themselves a principal in power of motion and, unless particularly confined, can convey themselves from one part of the world to another."

In Pendleton Tate v Lucy Ogg, an animal trespass case, the Supreme Court of Virginia used these words:

"Viewed in its broad sense, the word animal, in the language of the law, is used in contradistinction to a human being, and signifies an inferior living creature, generally having the power of self-motion. It may, therefore, be said to include domestic turkeys and poultry."

animal ferretThe 1957 case of Tillery v Crook gave judicial sanction to these words of law:

"The word animal is very comprehensive, and in the broadest sense of the word, an animal is any animate being endowed with the power of voluntary motion.

"In its common acceptation, the word animal includes all irrational beings. The term is less extensive as used in jurisprudence than in natural science, and in its legal sense does not include mankind. In the language of the law the term ordinarily includes all living creatures not human or rational, and endowed with the power of voluntary or self-motion, unless the statute or other context in which the word is employed indicates that it should be given another or more restricted meaning....

"Animals viewed in broad sense is used in contradistinction to a human being, and signifies an inferior living creature generally having the power of self-motion."

Statutes often specifically define the term to suit the remedial needs of the legislation. The definition of animal under the U.S. Animal Welfare Act refers mainly to warm-blooded animals, such as dogs, cats, non-human primates, guinea pigs and rabbits (7 U.S.C. § 2132(g)).

England's Diseases of Animals Act 1975, at s. 1(4) defines animal as:

  • "Any kind of mammal except man;

  • "Any kind of four-footed beast which is not a mammal; (and)
  • "Fish, reptiles, crustaceans and other cold-blooded creatures...."

Attention need also be paid to the evolving body of animal law which derives from the concept of animals as sentient beings and legal consequences thereof. For example, the Treaty of Lisbon at Article 13:

"... animals are sentient beings...."

The 2nd Edition of Am. Jur., under the heading "Animals" presents an excellent definition of the term in law:

".. in the language of the law, the word animal is used to man all animal life other than humans and signifies an inferior or irrational sentient being, generally, though not necessarily, possessed of the power of self-motion."


  • Bernardine v City of New York, 62 NE 2d 604 (1945)
  • Tate v Ogg, 170 Va. 95 (1938)
  • Tillery v. Crook, 297 SW 2d 9 (1957)
  • Treaty of Lisbon, formally, the Treaty on European Union, Official Journal C 115 , 09/05/2008 P. 0001 - 0388

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