Arizona Animal Cruelty Laws


Most animal abuse cases involve cats and dogs, but Arizona’s animal cruelty laws extend to all domestic pets, service animals, working animals, livestock, and poultry. It’s a serious crime that can carry significant fines, probation, and even jail time.

Animal Cruelty Laws in Arizona

Under ARS 13-2910, the following actions are considered animal cruelty when they’re committed intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

  • Subjecting an animal under your custody or control to cruel negligence or abandonment
  • Failing to provide medical attention necessary to prevent protracted suffering to an animal under your custody or control
  • Inflicting unnecessary physical injury to an animal
  • Killing an animal under the custody or control of another person without legal privilege or consent of the owner
  • Leaving an animal unattended and confined in a motor vehicle when physical injury or death are likely
  • Subjecting an animal to cruel mistreatment
  • Interfering with, killing, or harming a working/service animal without legal
  • Allowing a dog under your custody or control to interfere with, kill, or cause physical injury to a service animal
  • Obtaining or exerting unauthorized control over a service animal with the intent to deprive the handler of their service animal

Note that these actions require intent, knowledge, or recklessness to be considered animal cruelty. Therefore, an individual who unintentionally or unknowingly commits one of these actions may not be guilty of animal cruelty.

If you are the owner of a victimized animal, consult with our personal injury attorney.

Exceptions to the Law

There are two notable exceptions to Arizona’s animal cruelty laws.

First, when a dog or predatory animal kills or wounds livestock, the property owner (or controller or lessee) is permitted to place poisoned bait on the property in order to protect their livestock.

The owner, controller, or lessee must post adequate warning to people who enter the property from the time the poison is placed to the time it is removed. The warning must be readable at least 50 feet away and include a poison statement, the poison symbol, and the word “danger” or “warning.”

Second, property owners, lessees, and controllers may place poison in and immediately around their building in order to control wild and domestic rodents.

Penalties for Animal Cruelty in Arizona

Depending on the circumstances of your crime, animal cruelty is either a class 1 misdemeanor, a class 6 felony, or a class 5 felony.

In Arizona, class 1 misdemeanors are punishable by up to six months in jail, three years of probation, and $2,500 in fines. A class 6 felony carries a maximum sentence of two years in aggravated cases, while an aggravated class 5 felony carries a 2.5 year max sentence.

Defenses Against Animal Cruelty Charges

There are a number of potential defenses that you can present when you’re charged with animal cruelty. It’s best to work with an experienced criminal law attorney to determine the best strategy and represent you in court.

The best defense against animal cruelty charges is to prove that you did not act knowingly, intentionally, or recklessly. Arizona’s animal cruelty laws hinge on these three states of mind, so as long as you acted unknowingly or unintentionally harmed or killed the animal, you’re innocent.

If you acted intentionally or knowingly, then you’ll need to prove that you weren’t reckless. For example, you made a logical decision to humanely put down your pet when they were terminally ill or injured.

Self defense is another common defense in animal cruelty cases. As long as you were defending yourself or another person, then harming or killing the animal in question may be justified.

FAQs on Animal Cruelty Charges in Arizona

How many years can you go to jail for animal abuse?

Most animal abuse cases are a class 1 misdemeanor, which carries a maximum jail sentence of six months. Serious animal abuse cases may be upgraded to either a class 6 (2 years maximum sentence) or a class 5 felony (2.5 years maximum sentence).

Do you go to jail if you kill an animal in self defense?

Killing or injuring an animal in self defense is not animal cruelty. The animal’s owner may try to press charges against you, but you’re innocent as long as you acted in self defense.

Is it illegal to kill cats or dogs?

It’s technically legal to “put down” a terminally ill pet as long as the action doesn’t involve protracted suffering (i.e. the pet must die instantly). That said, it’s best to take terminally ill pets to the veterinarian to be euthanized rather than putting it down yourself.

Is it illegal to kill feral cats in Arizona?

Arizona’s animal cruelty laws prohibit killing feral cats. However, you can trap feral cats and take them to an animal shelter to be adopted or euthanized. There are also organizations like the Foundation for Homeless Cats who support initiatives to address the issue of feral cats with non-lethal approaches.

How long before a pet is considered abandoned?

There is no time period for a pet to be considered abandoned. As soon as the owner “intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly” abandons the pet, they’re guilty of animal cruelty.

What is cruel negligence?

Cruel negligence takes place when an individual fails to provide food, water, or shelter to an animal under their custody or control.

What is cruel mistreatment?

Cruel mistreatment is when an individual tortures an animal, inflicts unnecessary serious physical injury, or kills an animal in a manner that causes protracted suffering.

What is a service animal?

A service animal is an animal that has completed a formal training program and assists its owner in one or more daily living tasks that are associated with a productive lifestyle. The service animal must be properly trained to not pose a danger to the health and safety of the general public.

What is a working animal?

Working animals are dogs and horses used by law enforcement that are specially trained for law enforcement work and under the control of a handler.

Is animal fighting considered animal cruelty?

Animal fighting is technically considered animal cruelty, but it’s separately addressed under ARS 13-2910.01. Participants in animal fights may be charged with a class 5 felony, while those in attendance of an animal fight may be charged with a class 6 felony.

What to do if you’re facing animal cruelty charges

When you’re charged with animal cruelty in Arizona, you should consult with a criminal law attorney as soon as possible. Don’t speak with law enforcement or negotiate for a plea deal without a lawyer present.


Call the JacksonWhite Criminal Law team at (480) 467-4370 to discuss your case today.

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