Guide to Animal Rights Laws in California

Laws related to animals are made at the federal, state, and local levels. This page is for laws throughout the state of California. Be sure to also read our Guide to Animal Rights in the U.S., and Guide to Animal Rights in the Los Angeles area and San Francisco area.

1. General

Is it illegal to kill or harm an animal in California?

Yes, animal abuse or cruelty is illegal except for any of the following:1Penal Code 597; Penal Code 599c

  • legal hunting under the California “game laws
  • killing or harming an animal that poses a danger to life or property
  • killing an animal “used for food” (see section below for more on this)
  • scientific experiments under the authority of faculty of a medical college or university

Specifically, it is illegal to do any of the following to animals:

  • poison them, except for “predatory” animals2Penal Code Sec 596
  • torture them3Penal Code Sec 597, including force-feeding (for foie gras)
  • overwork them4Sec 597(b)
  • deprive them of necessary food, drink, or shelter5Sec 597(b)
  • keep them in small cages6CA Health and Safety Code, Division 20, Ch 13.8, Sec. 25990

Is it illegal to kill birds, reptiles, amphibians, or fish?

It is illegal to kill these animals depending on where and what specific species, as specified in the California Fish and Game code.

2. Animals in cars

Is it illegal to leave an animal in a car?

It is illegal to leave any animal in a car where it could endanger the health or well being of the animal, due to extreme heat, extreme cold, lack of food or water, or other circumstances.7Penal Code Sec 597.7

Is it legal to break into a car to rescue an animal?

Yes, under certain circumstances. You must reasonably believe that it is necessary to break into the car in order to save an animal from imminent harm, and you must contact law enforcement, animal control, or the fire department. You must remain with the animal until the authorities arrive.8Penal Code 597.7

If I break a car window to save an animal, can I be sued?

If you follow the above rules, you can not be held liable for the damage you cause to the car.9Civil Code 43.100

3. Fur & other products

Is it legal to sell fur or manufacture fur in California?

Photo by Jonatan Pie on Unsplash

As of September 2019, there is now a ban on trapping animals for their fur and pelts in California. However, it is generally not illegal to sell fur in California, except for in a few cities. But the state may soon pass a law to change this.

As of August 2019, Los Angeles, West Hollywood, San Francisco, and Berkeley currently have fur bans.

In these cities, the general rule is that stores may not sell fur clothing or accessories unless it is vintage (used), or from an animal that was trapped under a state license.

Is it legal to sell alligator or crocodile products?

California bans the importation or sale of alligator and crocodile products. However this ban is currently on hold. The state of Louisiana sued to stop the ban, and the courts are determining whether or not to allow it.

4. Breeding animals

Is it legal for stores to sell pets that come from a breeder?

Photo by Jairo Alzate on Unsplash

Several cities in California prohibit stores from selling cats, dogs, or rabbits that come from a commercial breeder (aka “puppy mill”). These cities include Los Angeles, Irvine, Hermosa Beach and West Hollywood. But in general, stores may still sell rescued animals (“rescues”) such as from a shelter. And cities generally do NOT ban individuals from buying directly from breeders.

5. Animal fighting

Is dogfighting illegal?

Yes, it is illegal to participate in dogfighting in any way, including simply being present and watching a dog fight.10Penal Code Sec 597.5

Is cockfighting illegal?

Yes.11Penal Code Sec 597b(b)

Is it illegal to get other animals to fight?

Yes.12Penal Code Sec 597b

6. Farm Animals or Animals Used for Food

Are there any rules on treating farm animals?

Yes. For any pig during pregnancy, calf raised for veal, or egg-laying hen who is kept on a farm:

they may NOT be tethered or confined, for all or the majority of any day, in a manner that prevents such animal from lying down, standing up, and fully extending his or her limbs; and turning around freely.13Health & Safety Code Sec 25990

This is also known as the “cage free egg” law. This law comes from Proposition 2, which California voters passed in 2008.

Beginning in 2020, there will be additional regulations, from Prop 12 which passed in November 2018. Phased in over the next 4 years, certain farm animals must not be confined in spaces smaller than the following: starting in 2020, calves raised for veal must have at least 43 square feet of space, and egg-laying hens (chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guinea fowl) must have at least 1 square foot of space; and starting in 2022, breeding pigs must have at least 24 square feet. And meat cannot be sold in CA that does not meet these requirements.

Is it legal to sell horsemeat?

It is illegal to sell horse meat in California.14Penal Code Sec 598d

Is it legal to eat roadkill?

Not yet, but it will be by 2022. A new law directs the California Fish and Game Commission to develop a program which would allow people to collect and potentially eat wild animals which were killed in traffic collisions.15Wildlife Traffic Safety Act, SB 395 The animals would include deer, elk, pronghorn antelope, or wild pig. You would need to get a “wildlife salvage permit” from the Commission.

7. Cosmetics

Is it illegal to test cosmetic products on animals?

Manufacturers and contract testing facilities are prohibited from using traditional animal testing methods within California when an appropriate alternative test method has been scientifically validated and recommended by the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods (ICCVAM) or other specified agencies.

Also, as of January 2020, it is illegal to sell any cosmetics with ingredients that have been tested on animals.16Section 1834.9.5 of the California Civil Code; SB 1249 (2018)

8. Bestiality

Is it illegal to have sex with animals?

Yes, any sexual contact with animals is illegal.17California Penal Code 286.5

9. Circus animals

Is it illegal to use wild animals in the circus?

Yes, as of January 2020 it is illegal for a circus to use any animal other than a domestic cat, domestic dog, or domesticated horse. This means bears, tigers, lions, elephants, monkeys or other wild animals cannot be used for such entertainment.18SB 313 (2019)

Further Resources

See more rules on animal welfare in California Penal Code, Title 14.

Related Pages

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Featured photo: Photo by Fabian Burghardt on Unsplash


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