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Kevin O'Flaherty

In this article, we will give an overview on the laws in Iowa regarding animals and pets. Iowa provides protection to certain animals under its criminal statutes. The protected animals, including pets and police dogs, are not allowed to be abused, neglected, or tortured. Animal mistreatment does not apply to all animals, including livestock (however, other areas of state and federal law may afford them some protection).  

What is animal mistreatment?

It is a crime in Iowa to mistreat certain animals. Unless a person owns or controls that animal, the law does not apply to livestock, preserve whitetail deer, game animals, fur-bearing animals, fish, reptiles, or amphibians. The law also does not apply to species declared to be a nuisance.  

Animal mistreatment includes the crimes of animal abuse, animal neglect, animal torture, abandonment of a cat or dog, or injury or interference to a police service dog.  

What is animal abuse?

A person commits animal abuse when a person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly acts to inflict severe injury or death on an animal by force, violence, or poisoning. A serious injury is an injury that constitutes an animal’s long-lasting or permanent injury.  

Reasonable euthanasia is not animal abuse, nor are actions taken by veterinarians. Nor are actions that constitute activities like lawful hunting and protecting one’s home or property from wild animals or animals which are not properly confined. There are other exceptions, such as activities at properly authorized research facilities.  

A person who commits animal abuse that causes a minor injury to the animal is guilty of a serious misdemeanor. A person who commits animal abuse that causes severe injury or death to an animal is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor, punishable by up to two years of incarceration.  

Suppose a person has previously been convicted of animal abuse, severe animal neglect, animal torture, injury or interference with a police dog, or has engaged in bestiality or prohibited animal contests (i.e., dog or cock fighting). In that case, they will be guilty of a class D felony if the animal suffered severe injury or death. This felony carries a maximum period of imprisonment of five years.  

What is animal neglect?

A person commits animal neglect when they own or have care and control of an animal, confines the animal, and fails to provide it with any of the following conditions for the animal’s welfare:  

  • Access to a reasonable amount of quality food to the point their life or health is endangered.  
  • Access to a supply of water to the extent its life or health is endangered (snow or ice doesn’t count)  
  • Sanitary conditions free from excessive animal waste or overcrowding of animals to the extent their health or life is endangered  
  • Ventilated shelter to provide safety from the elements suitable for the kind of animal, its age, and other considerations.  
  • Grooming to the extent necessary to prevent adverse health effects  
  • Veterinary care is deemed necessary by a reasonable person to relieve an animal’s distress from an injury or illness.  

Note, if a person operates a commercial establishment, there are different standards with which a person must comply.  

Animal neglect that does not cause injury, serious injury, or death to an animal is guilty of a simple misdemeanor. A person who commits animal neglect that causes injury, other than serious injury or death to an animal, is guilty of a simple misdemeanor. A person who commits animal neglect that causes a severe injury or death to an animal is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor, up to two years in prison. Like animal abuse, a person who was previously convicted of one of the crimes under that paragraph who causes the death of an animal through neglect is guilty of a class D felony.  

After consulting with a veterinarian, law enforcement officers may enter premises to rescue neglected animals.  

What is animal torture?

A person is guilty of animal torture if a person intentionally or knowingly inflicts on an animal severe or extensive or repeated physical pain, resulting in its severe injury or death. This is an aggravated misdemeanor, whether or not the animal dies. A person who commits animal torture is guilty of a class D felony, even if the animal didn’t die, and they have one of the above listed convictions.  

May the court issue a mental evaluation of someone who committed animal mistreatment?  

The court may issue someone convicted of animal mistreatment to undergo a psychological or psychiatric evaluation and to undergo any treatment the court deems appropriate. The court must issue this order if the convicted person is a juvenile or an adult convicted of a mistreatment crime at a level of an aggravated misdemeanor or higher. The convicted person pays the cost of the treatment or evaluation unless they are a juvenile.  

What are the penalties for the abandonment of cats and dogs?

A person abandons a cat or dog when they give up all rights and duties to care for the cat and dog. However, there are several exceptions, such as:  

  • Delivering a dog or cat to someone who will accept ownership and care of it  
  • Delivery to an animal shelter or pound which is validly authorized by the state  
  • If the person captured a cat for sterilization by a veterinarian and returned it to where it was taken from.  

If the abandonment does not cause injury or death, the person is guilty of a simple misdemeanor. A person who commits animal abandonment that causes injury other than serious injury or death is guilty of a serious misdemeanor. If the abandonment causes injury or death to an animal, the person is guilty of an aggravated misdemeanor.


What is injury or interference with a police service dog?

A person who knowingly, willfully, and maliciously torments, strikes, administers tranquilizer to, or otherwise interferes with a police service dog without inflicting severe injury on the dog is guilty of a serious misdemeanor.  

If a person knowingly and willfully and maliciously tortures, seriously injures, or sets a booby trap to injure or kill a police dog seriously, puts a bounty out to seriously injure or kill a police dog, or gives poison to a police dog, is guilty of a class D felony. This does not apply to police officers or veterinarians, or persons who justifiably act in self-defense of themselves or another.  

If you have more questions regarding animal abuse laws or are facing disputes, contact one of our experienced Iowa attorneys today. You can reach us at 630-324-6666 or fill out our confidential contact form, and a member of our team will get in touch with you shortly.    

Disclaimer: The information provided on this blog is intended for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. Each individual's legal needs are unique, and these materials may not be applicable to your legal situation. Always seek the advice of a competent attorney with any questions you may have regarding a legal issue. Do not disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this blog.

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