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Codes of Welfare for companion animals – when can you have a say?

28 November 2023

Codes of Welfare for animals provide minimum standards, recommendations for best practice, and guidance for people in charge of animals. Here we share the latest news on the codes for our most common companion animals – rabbits, cats, and dogs.

Codes of Welfare for companion animals – when can you have a say?

​First published 18 July 2023. Updated 28 November 2023.

What are the codes of welfare?

Codes of welfare are issued by the Minister responsible for animal welfare under the Animal Welfare Act 1999. Codes of Welfare are not directly enforceable but, if you are charged with an offence under the Act:

  • evidence of your failure to meet a relevant minimum standard in a code may be used to support the prosecution
  • your defence may include evidence that you equalled or exceeded the minimum standards in a relevant code.

How are codes of welfare developed and updated?

Codes of welfare are developed by the National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC), not SPCA or MPI. The Animal Welfare Act sets out the requirements NAWAC must follow when developing a code of welfare. NAWAC’s process for developing a code of welfare can be found here.

The five steps are:

  1. Drafting a new or updated code
  2. NAWAC review
  3. Consultation (including public consultation)
  4. Finalising
  5. Publishing
The first step involves drafting a new or updated code of welfare. Anyone can draft a code of welfare and submit it to NAWAC to consider.

Under the Animal Welfare Act, people preparing a code of welfare must consult with representatives of persons likely to be affected by the code before submitting it to NAWAC for consideration.

The code is then passed on to NAWAC along with a report which includes all the feedback from this early consultation phase, highlights any areas of disagreement, and provides all evidence (good practice, scientific evidence, and available technology).

After passing a code to NAWAC it goes through multiple rounds of review and revision. NAWAC then seeks approval from the Minister for Primary Industries for public consultation.

After submissions close, NAWAC considers all feedback and incorporates it into the code, as appropriate. It also ensures the code is still legally sound and clearly written. The code is then recommended to the Minister for Primary Industries for approval.

Developing or updating a code is a multistep process which can take months to years.

A new Code of Welfare for Rabbits

There is currently no code of welfare for rabbits.

This makes it difficult for people to know how to best care for their rabbits. It also makes it challenging for animal welfare inspectors to enforce the Animal Welfare Act.

A new draft Code of Welfare for rabbits has been drafted by SPCA. SPCA completed the required consultation with representatives of people likely to be affected by the code and passed the proposed new code and accompanying report to NAWAC for consideration in 2021. NAWAC recently gave an update that they will be progressing the draft code of welfare for rabbits in 2023.

The new code of welfare for rabbits is currently at Step Two, NAWAC review. This code has been added to NAWAC's work programme and will be progressed pursuant to resourcing being available.

We will let you know when this code becomes available for public consultation.

An updated Code of Welfare for Cats

The current Code of Welfare for Cats has not been updated for 16 years and is very out of date in relation to current good practice and scientific knowledge.

SPCA developed an updated proposed draft code to reflect advances in research and practices relevant for cat welfare and ensure the code helps uphold the Animal Welfare Act in New Zealand. SPCA completed the required consultation with representatives of people likely to be affected by the code and passed the updated proposed draft code and accompanying report to NAWAC for consideration in July 2023.

The updated Code of Welfare for Cats is currently at Step Two, NAWAC review. This code has been added to NAWAC's work programme and will be progressed pursuant to resourcing being available.

We will let you know when this code becomes available for public consultation.

An updated Code of Welfare for Dogs

The current Code of Welfare for Dogs has not been updated for 13 years and is very out of date in relation to current good practice and scientific knowledge.

A writing group comprising seven national animal welfare stakeholders drafted an updated Code of Welfare for Dogs. This group included: Companion Animals New Zealand (CANZ), Companion Animal Veterinarians (NZVA-CAV), Dogs New Zealand (Dogs NZ), New Zealand Institute of Animal Management (NZIAM) New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA), New Zealand Veterinary Nursing Association (NZVNA), SPCA New Zealand (SPCA), and Veterinarians for Animal Welfare Aotearoa (VAWA).

SPCA completed the required consultation with representatives of people likely to be affected by the code, requesting feedback from over 400 organisations and individuals. The updated proposed draft code and accompanying report were passed to NAWAC for consideration in October 2023.

The updated Code of Welfare for Dogs has been passed to NAWAC for consideration and is currently at Step Two, NAWAC review. This code has been added to NAWAC's work programme and will be progressed pursuant to resourcing being available.

We will let you know when this code becomes available for public consultation.

Want to know more?

You can find our position on animal welfare standards and legislation here:

NAWAC’s guidelines for updating a Code can be found here.

NAWAC's meeting minutes and contact details can be found here.

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