Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Animal Law Definition:

That body of law particular to the liability associated with animals or the rights or statutory protection of animals.

Related Terms: Animal, Animal Rights, Animal Welfare

Also sometimes referred to as the law of animals.

In their 2011 law book, authors Wagman and Liebman describe animal law as follows:

"... animal law covers all aspects of the law - legislative, judicial, regulatory, executive - that deal with issues pertaining to nonhuman animals.

"A short list of these areas includes: criminal prosecution of perpetrators of animal cruelty, political and philosophical efforts to include specific animals within the group of fundamental legal rights-holders, civil litigation that challenges longstanding practices affecting animals, and laws that affects animals (such as legislation that protects animal farmers from liability for creating noxious environments, that increases penalties for animal cruelty, that restricts the species or breeds of animals allowed in a jurisdiction, or that provides heightened protection for certain species).

"Animal law includes regulatory and municipal control of the keeping of companion animals, as well as governmental regulation of animal experimentation, including the conditions of confinement and the types of research performed on animals. And it includes a wide variety of international arrangements, compacts, and treaties that affect how countries deal with animals within their borders, as well as ·those who may enter their borders on a transient basis."

animal lawRebecca J. Huss, Professor of Law, Valparaiso University School of Law wrote:

"Animal law can be defined as encompassing the legal issues that relate to or impact nonhuman animals.

"By its very nature, animal law consists of many different areas of the law including many of the courses frequently taught during the first year of law school. For example, civil cases based on the injury or death of an animal raise tort issues, the seizure of animals and the use of animals for religious sacrifice raise constitutional law issues, and abuse cases raise criminal law issues.

"Family law is implicated when there is a dispute over the disposition of an animal upon the dissolution of a marriage, and environmental law issues can arise when factory farming is part of a community.

"Animal law should be contrasted with animal rights and animal welfare. Advocates of animal rights oppose the use of animals by humans. This would include the consumption of animals and their products and use of animals for experimentation. Proponents of animal welfare focus on the humane treatment of animals including the prevention of cruelty towards animals. Most large animal advocacy organizations in the U.S. fit within the second definition...."

The body of law is a challenge to circumscribe especially as it is sometimes used as a tool for the advancement of philosophical viewpoints. For example, even in regards to the above description, the law has defined animals to be "a creature or living thing, other than human, being able to move of its own accord", which, if accurate, renders the implied suggestion that animals include humans as wrong (i.e. "nonhuman animals").

The curriculum of the basic animal law course at the Lewis & Clark Law School describes the field of animal law as follows:

"... the way in which the law – statutory, regulatory and common law — affects animals. It will include an examination of the relationship between humans and animals from both philosophical and practical perspectives, taking into account: the uses to which animals are put and scientific understanding of their capacities; the ramifications of the legal classification of animals as property; how the law impacts people’s relationship with companion animals; use of animals by industry, including agribusiness; current animal protection laws, state and federal, as well as efforts to reform such laws through legislation and litigation; “standing” and other problems of litigating on behalf of animals; and the way the law regulates the dissemination of information regarding animals."


  • Huss, Rebecca, Pervasive Nature of Animal Law: How the Law Impacts the Lives of People and Their Animal Companions, 43 Val. U. L. Rev. 1131 (2008-2009). The author's credentials footnote to the article ends with these words: "This article is dedicated to the memory of the author's canine companion, Jacquelyn Uhura Huss (June 22, 1991-May 20, 2008)."
  • NOTE 1: Lewis & Clark Law School, Center for Animal Law Studies, Animal Law Fundamentals (449 A) - 2012
  • Wagman, Bruce and Liebman, Matthew, A Worldwide View of Animal Law (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2011), page 7.

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