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Basic standards of care / adequate medical care

Region: Ontario Answer # 4014

What are basic standards of care?

In Ontario, the Standards of Care and Administrative Requirements under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services Act (PAWS) require that animals be provided with basic standards of care and adequate and appropriate medical attention.

The Act sets out basic standards of care for all animals, as well as standards of care for specific categories of animals such as dogs. Under Part II, section 3 of the Act, the basic standards of care for all animals include the following:

(1) Every animal must be provided with adequate and appropriate food and water.

(2) Every animal must be provided with adequate and appropriate medical attention.

(3) Every animal must be provided with the care necessary for its general welfare.

(4) Every animal must be transported in a manner that ensures its physical safety and general welfare.

(5) Every animal must be provided with an adequate and appropriate resting and sleeping area.

(6) Every animal must be provided with adequate and appropriate,

(a) space to enable the animal to move naturally and to exercise;

(b) sanitary conditions;

(c) ventilation;

(d) light; and

(e) protection from the elements, including harmful temperatures.

(7) If an animal is confined to a pen or other enclosed structure or area,

(a) the pen or other enclosed structure or area, and any structures or material in it, must be in a state of good repair;

(b) the pen or other enclosed structure or area, and any surfaces, structures and materials in it, must be made of and contain only materials that are,

(i) safe and non-toxic for the animal, and

(ii) of a texture and design that will not bruise, cut or otherwise injure the animal; and

(c) the pen or other enclosed structure or area must not contain one or more other animals that may pose a danger to the animal.

What is considered adequate medical care?

While what is considered “adequate” or “appropriate” medical care is not specifically defined in PAWS, the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, along with various provincial humane societies provide the following examples of what would generally be considered a failure to provide adequate medical care (neglect):

Failure to provide proper grooming:

    • Severely matted hair can cause pain worsen infections
    • Overgrown hoofs and nails can cause pain, suffering or unnecessary hardship
    • Untreated dental disease

Failure to properly respond to changes in health and emergency concerns:

    • A failure to seek veterinary care in a timely manner when the animal needs immediate medical attention
    • Allowing an illness to persist without seeking medical attention
    • Heavy flea, ear mite, tick or other ectoparasite infestations
    • Chronic, infected, untreated, or unhealed wounds and skin lesions
    • Wounds that are infected with maggots
    • Collars embedded in the neck
    • Failure to respond to swelling in the animal (incl. tumours or abscesses)

What laws apply?

Not providing basic standards of care and adequate medical care are generally treated as forms of neglect and animal cruelty or abuse under federal and provincial legislation and municipal by-laws.

Provincial law

Failing to provide adequate and appropriate medical attention when the animal is sick, injured, in pain or suffering would amount to causing or permitting distress, and is an offence under the Provincial Animal Welfare Services (PAWS) Act.

Specifically, under section 49(1), every person is guilty of an offence who

  • Fails to provide standards of care
  • Exposes an animal to undue risk of distress

Penalties for these offences are as follows:

  • For a first offence, a fine of not more than $75,000, or imprisonment for a term of not more than six months, or both; or
  • For a second or subsequent offence, a fine of not more than $100,000, or imprisonment for a term of not more than one year, or both.

Under section 49(2), every person is guilty of an offence who

  • Causes animal distress
  • Permits animal distress

Penalties for these offences are as follows:

  • For a first offence, a fine of not more than $130,000, or imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or both; or
  • For a second or subsequent offence, a fine of not more than $260,000, or imprisonment for a term of not more than two years, or both.

Municipal by-Laws

Various municipalities across Ontario address the issue of animals and adequate care.

Under the Toronto Municipal Code, Chapter 349, Animals, there is an obligation on animal owners to provide adequate and appropriate care required to meet the needs of the species and the health and wellbeing of the animal, including providing veterinary care deemed reasonably necessary to relieve distress from injury, neglect, and disease. A failure to provide adequate care for an animal is subject to a fine of $365.

Sault Ste. Marie uses similar language in their Animal Care and Control By-Law regarding the provision of veterinary care when the animal exhibits signs of pain, illness, or suffering, subjecting the owner or custodian to a fine of $400 where adequate care is not provided.

Under Ottawa’s Animal Care and Control By-Law, there is an obligation to comply with the PAWS Act in terms of providing adequate and appropriate care to animals within the municipal boundaries, which will be enforced by the provincial inspectors or agents under that Act.

Criminal Code of Canada

The Criminal Code of Canada prohibits causing or permitting unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal, with a maximum imprisonment of 5 years or a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 18 months.

It is also an offence for an owner or custodian of an animal to fail to provide suitable and adequate care, subject to imprisonment for up to 2 years or a fine of up to $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 6 months.

Required immunization

Under the Ontario Health Protection and Promotion Act, Regulation 567: Rabies Immunization, the mandatory immunization / reimmunization of cats, dogs, and ferrets against rabies by 3 months or older is deemed to be necessary in providing adequate medical care. Although some exemptions are provided for animals who cannot get the vaccine due to medical conditions, a failure to comply with the regulation means an individual is guilty of an offence, including a fine of up to $5,000 per day on which the failure to immunize occurs or continues to take place.

Consult with your veterinarian regarding vaccination guidelines for your pet.

What is the responsibility of veterinarians?

Under the PAWS Act, veterinarians with a reasonable belief that an animal is being abused or neglected have a duty to report it to an animal welfare inspector. Veterinarians are trained to recognize and determine whether an animal is being provided with the proper and necessary care, taking into consideration its species, breed, age, medical history, size, and other factors.

More info

For more information about what is considered adequate care for your pet’s health, seek the advice of your veterinarian.

There are also several organizations affiliated with the Ontario SPCA and Humane Society, and municipal services such as HelpingPawsTO, which can provide further information, resources, and affordable health care options to ensure pets are given adequate medical care and attention.

More information and legislation is also available from our Links and Resources.


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