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The main legislation that deals with the control of domestic animals in NSW is the Companion Animals Act 1998 and the Companion Animals Regulation 2008. This sets out the responsibilities of dog and cat owners and provides local councils with a range of measures to prevent animals causing harm to people and property.

Under the Act, dogs and cats must be identified and registered (Companion Animals Act 1998, Part 2 Compulsory identification and registration of companion animals).There are various restrictions on dogs and cats in public places and obligations to remove and dispose of faeces (Part 3 Responsibility for control of dogs and Part 4 Responsibility for control of cats). An owner must take all reasonable precautions to prevent a dog escaping from the property where it is kept (section 12A). Local councils can also make orders restricting the number of animals kept at premises (Local Government Act 1993, section 124).

It is an offence for a dog to rush at, attack, bite, harass or chase a person or another animal (other than vermin) and it is an offence for a person to set on or urge a dog to do this. The owner or person in charge of the dog at the time of the offence can be fined up to $5500 and if the dog has attacked or bitten, the dog may be seized and secured (Companion Animals Act 1993, sections 16-18). A person convicted of this offence can face disqualification from owning a dog or being in charge of one in a public place for a period of up to five years (section 23).

The exceptions to this offence are if:

  • the dog has been teased, attacked, mistreated or otherwise provoked
  • the person or animal is trespassing and the dog is acting in reasonable defence of a person or property.

The penalties are heavier if the dog has been declared dangerous or is a ‘restricted’ dog under the terms of the Act (sections 16-17).

For a dog that is declared dangerous or ‘restricted’ (meaning of a certain breed) there are specific requirements including the desexing of the dog, that it wear a distinctive collar, be housed in a proper enclosure and that warning signs be displayed at the premises where the dog is kept. When outside the enclosure the dog must be on a lead and muzzled and when in public, must not be in the charge of a person under 18 years (Companion Animals Act 1998 Part 5 Dangerous dogs; and Companion Animals Regulation 2008, Part 4 Dangerous or restricted dogs).

Breach of these requirements is an offence and can result in the dog being seized and the owner being fined up to $16,500 (Companion Animals Act 1998, section 36). If the dog attacks or bites a person as a result of breach of the requirements, the owner may be permanently disqualified from owning a dog or being in charge of one in a public place (section 23).

In addition to the powers of the local council, the Court can also order that a dog be seized and destroyed, or declared to be dangerous or restricted, or else require specific control action be taken within a specified time. Typical actions in a control order can include the desexing of the dog, or that it undergo behavioural training to prevent or reduce the likelihood of it attacking people or animals. Failure to comply with the control order may result in a fine of up to $11,000 (Part 5 Powers of Courts to make destruction and control orders).

Under the Act and the Companion Animals Regulation 2008, a dog attack register is also kept by the Department of Local Government containing state-wide information.

A dog that is not vicious can still be a problem for neighbours. A dog is a nuisance under section 21 of the Act if it:

  • is ‘habitually at large’ (often wanders away from home)
  • makes a noise that is so persistent or occurs to such an extent that it unreasonably interferes with the peace, comfort or convenience of any person in other premises
  • repeatedly defecates on private property other than the premises where it is kept
  • repeatedly runs at or chases a person or vehicle or animal (other than vermin and other than in the course of stock work)
  • endangers the health of a person or animal (other than vermin and other than in the course of stock work)
  • repeatedly causes substantial damage to anything outside the premises where it is normally kept.

Similarly, under section 31 of the Act a cat is a nuisance if it:

  • makes a noise that is so persistent or occurs to such an extent that it unreasonably interferes with the peace, comfort or convenience of any person in other premises
  • repeatedly damages anything outside the premises where it is normally kept.

Where a council officer is satisfied that a cat or a dog is a nuisance, the officer can issue a cat nuisance order or a dog nuisance order. The procedure for issuing a nuisance order is as follows. The council officer must first issue the owner with a notice of the intention to issue the nuisance order. This notice of intention must specify what action will be required in the proposed order and that the owner has seven days to object to it being issued. If the owner makes an objection, the officer must consider this before issuing the order. Otherwise, after seven days the order will be issued (sections 21A and 31A).

A cat or dog nuisance order must specify the particular nuisance behaviour that must be addressed or prevented. The order will remain in force for six months and the owner must comply with the order. Penalties for breach can range from $330 (cat) or $880 (dog) for a first offence, to $880 (cat) or $1650 (dog) for subsequent breaches. The order cannot be appealed (sections 21 and 31). Where noise is a problem, whether from barking or other behaviour, there are also remedies available under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 (POEO Act). For a quick response to temporary offensive noise, the police can issue a noise abatement direction to cease making the noise. The direction remains in force for up to 28 days and there is no appeal. Breach of the direction can result in a fine of up to $3300.

Another option is a Prevention Notice issued by a local council officer under section 96 of the POEO Act. This notice can list specific actions that must be taken within a certain time, to prevent the noise.

These remedies do not stop any person from applying themselves to the Local Court for a noise abatement order under sections 268-274 of the POEO Act. If a magistrate is satisfied that offensive noise is being emitted an order can be issued requiring the offensive noise to cease. Where there is a problem with the number or kind of animals or birds being kept by a neighbour, or the manner in which they are kept, your local council can help. Under section 124 of the Local Government Act 1993 the council can issue an order requiring that the animals or birds not be kept on the premises or not be kept in such numbers or in such conditions.

Domestic animals are a common source of problems between neighbours. If you have a problem with a neighbour’s animal, try talking first with your neighbour about the problem. The Community Justice Centre can also help you mediate a solution. If the problem persists, contact your local council.

If you suspect an animal is being mistreated, contact the RSPCA Inspectors on 1300 CRUELTY (1300 278 3589) or (02) 9770 7555 or visit the RSPCA website.