Animal Law

Animal Cruelty Laws in Ohio

By E.A. Gjelten, Author and Editor
It’s a crime in Ohio to abuse or neglect pets, and the state allows Good Samaritans to rescue neglected pets or animals locked in hot cars.

Cruelty to animals is illegal in Ohio, as it is across the country. The law in Ohio is comprehensive and detailed, covering many different forms of mistreatment. Some of the legal provisions are specific to certain types of animals (including carrier pigeons, horses, and livestock), while others cover all animals. Below, we’ve summarized the most important laws that pet owners and animal lovers should know about.

Pet Abuse

It’s a crime in Ohio to abuse or neglect pets (or “companion animals”) in a variety of ways, including:

  • torture, needless mutilation or killing, poisoning, or any other act of cruelty
  • not giving a pet the food and water it needs
  • confining a pet without supplying it with enough good food and water, as well as shelter from the elements, if it’s reasonable to expect that the animal would suffer as a result; and
  • deliberately doing anything that causes serious physical harm (including suffering from prolonged pain).

Certain practices are exempt from this law, including the use of pets in scientific research (if it’s performed under relevant regulations) and the use of common training devices under accepted practices. Violations of the statute may be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the type of abuse, whether it was intentional or resulted from negligence, and whether the person had previous convictions for the same crime. (Ohio Rev. Code §§ 959.131, 959.99.)

The law spells out the procedures and hearing requirements when authorities seize and impound mistreated pets. (Ohio Rev. Code § 959.132.)

Rescuing Animals

Ohio is one of a handful of states that allow bystanders to break into locked cars in order to rescue pets in distress. The rescuers will be protected from civil lawsuits for damage to the cars if they:

  • sincerely and reasonably believe that the animals are in immediate danger and that there’s no other way to rescue them without breaking into the vehicle
  • at least try to call 911 or contact other authorities before taking any action
  • use the minimum amount of force needed to break in and remove the animals
  • immediately contact authorities if that wasn’t possible before breaking in
  • put a note on the windshield with an explanation and contact information, and
  • stay with the animals in a safe place nearby until law enforcement or emergence responders arrive.

(Ohio Rev. Code § 959.133.)

The state also allows anyone to take possession of someone else’s pet to protect it from neglect. If an animal is confined without enough food, water, or attention for more than 15 hours, a concerned citizen may enter the property to remove the animal or give it food and water. Rescuers must immediately notify the owners about their actions or try to find them if they don’t know who they are. (Ohio Rev. Code § 1717.13.)


It’s a misdemeanor in Ohio for an owner or keeper of any domestic animal to abandon the creature. (Ohio Rev. Code § 959.01.)

Poisoning Animals

The state also makes it a misdemeanor to leave poison in a place where a domestic animal could easily find and eat it. (Ohio Rev. Code § 959.03.)

Organized Animal Fighting

It’s a felony in Ohio to participate in dogfighting in any way, including watching an organized fight. Most forms of participation in cockfighting or other kinds of animal fighting are also a felony. (Ohio Rev. Code §§ 959.15, 959.16.)

Speaking With a Lawyer

If you’ve been accused of animal cruelty—or you’re worried about possible charges—it’s a good idea to speak with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible. An attorney experienced in this area should be able to explain:

  • details on relevant state laws
  • how local authorities tend to interpret those laws
  • ordinances in your local community that may apply to your situation
  • how you might recover your pet if authorities have already taken it, and
  • any defense you might have to criminal charges.

Other questions you might have for a lawyer include:

  • Could I be charged with neglecting or abusing my cat because I don’t have the money for expensive vet treatment?
  • Could I be arrested under Ohio law for rescuing rabbits from a lab where they were being treated cruelly to test cosmetics?
  • A neighbor’s dog dug a hole under my fence and got into rat poison in my yard. Now the neighbor is threatening to press charges and/or sue me for poisoning the dog, because I should’ve known it could get in my yard. Can I be liable?
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