The Animal Protection Act

Icon of a book About Alberta’s Animal Protection Act

Alberta’s Animal Protection Act provides mechanisms to help mistreated animals and to hold negligent owners accountable for their actions. 

Key aspects of the Act are outlined below.

Definition of Distress

The Act states that an animal is in distress if it is: 

  • deprived of adequate shelter, ventilation, space, food, water or veterinary care or reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold,
  • injured, sick, in pain or suffering, or
  • abused and subjected to undue hardship, privation or neglect. 

The provisions for ventilation and space mean that animals kept in holding facilities are entitled to fresh air and sufficient room to carry out normal activities. The term “veterinary” is to clarify the type of care, and to ensure that animals receive proper medical attention when needed.

The requirement for reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold makes it an offense to fail to protect animals from extreme temperatures. The type of protection varies according to species, and sometimes by breeds within a single species. However, all species require some form of protection from the elements. Dogs left outdoors, for example, need a degree of protection dependent on their breed hardiness. Some livestock species such as pigs require enclosed structures, while windbreaks are acceptable for cattle and horses.

Accepted Practices

The section on Prohibition against causing distress to an animal does not apply if the distress is caused by an activity carried out with accordance with regulations or generally accepted practices of animal care, management, husbandry, hunting, fishing, trapping, pest control or slaughter. 

Animal Care Duties 

The Act delineates the duties that must be carried out by anyone who owns or looks after an animal – i.e., they must:

  • ensure that the animal has adequate food and water, 
  • provide the animal with adequate care when the animal is wounded or ill,
  • provide the animal with reasonable protection from injurious heat or cold, and
  • provide the animal with adequate shelter, ventilation and space.

By placing the duties in positive terms, it clearly defines the responsibilities of an animal owner and presents them in comprehensible terms. Rather than having to prove an animal is in distress, failure to perform these duties is now enough to be considered an offense. For instance, it’s much easier to see that an animal is not being given water to drink than to show that it is in distress from dehydration.

Photo of an Alberta SPCA Peace Officer

Powers of
Peace Officers

The Act allows Peace Officers to take an animal into custody or otherwise relieved of distress if the Peace Officer is of the opinion – on reasonable and probable grounds – that the owner or caretaker is not likely to provide care for the animal.

An example of how this helps:  if a dog is left outside with no doghouse or other protection from extreme weather and the weather forecast calls for -30°C the next day, Peace Officers can remove the dog and take it to a shelter before it is subjected to the bitter cold.  This allows Peace Officers to take a proactive approach to ensure animals do not become in distress. 

Abandoned Animals

A Peace Officer can take an abandoned animal into custody – whether or not it is in distress. The conditions that comprise abandonment include being left more than 24 hours without adequate food, water or shelter, or being left behind by former tenants of a rental property.

Other Features

This Act allows those who report suspected animal distress to be free from prosecution. It disallows any action from being taken unless the report was made maliciously or without probable grounds for the belief.

The Regulations associated with the Act incorporate parts of other provincial statutes that deal with animal welfare. This includes parts of the Livestock Transportation Regulations, the Livestock Market and Assembly Regulations, and the Motor Vehicle Act. The Regulations also include the standards set by the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) which oversees the treatment of animals used in research and post-secondary education facilities.


Organizations that enforce the animal protection legislation rely on the public to report instances of animal neglect and abuse. If you witness animal neglect and abuse you can report it to the agency responsible and provide specific details that will give Peace Officers reasonable and probable grounds to investigate. 

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