Pet Trespassing Laws by State

(By Louis Toffoli)

Among questions about property law, one of the most common questions is if it is legal to kill a trespasser on your property. While the trespasser can be a person or animal, we will be covering what states say about a trespassing animal. 

Pet Trespassing Laws by State 1 - Dr. Jeff Werber Celebrity Veterinarian Hollywood CA Blog

Whether it’s a dog that got away from its owner on a leash or a stray cat, there is always a chance a curious animal can trespass onto your property. In many states, there is a line determining if the killing was justified or considered a felony. 

To learn more about pet trespassing laws, keep reading further as we breakdown the specifics of these laws. 

Animal Cruelty Laws in the United States

In most parts of the country, specific laws prohibit someone from intentionally killing or harming an animal. You have no right to kill an animal simply because it is walking on your property in most parts of the country. 

Whether you are the owner of the animal or a dog is trespassing on your property, harming an animal is likely animal cruelty unless it’s justified. If an animal trespasses on your property and poses a danger to you or your property, it can be justified in some cases.  

Pet Trespassing Laws by State 2 - Dr. Jeff Werber Celebrity Veterinarian Hollywood CA Blog

Most states make it illegal to harm an animal “unnecessarily,” resulting in prison time or hefty fines. The animal would need to be overly aggressive and cause substantial damage to your property. 

If a dog does not endanger you or your property in any way and you kill it, that would be considered animal cruelty. Some more specific circumstances are damaging livestock if you are a farmer.

Examples of Trespassing Laws by State

In the United States, each state has its own set of laws on what they consider to be animal cruelty. However, when it comes to killing trespassing animals, there is a general consensus on the act. 

Below are some of the “dog-kill” laws that come straight from the state’s code of law about dog shooting: 

California: It is considered a felony if someone “maliciously and intentionally maims, mutilates, tortures, or wounds a living animal, or maliciously and intentionally kills an animal.” 

Illinois:Any owner seeing his or her livestock, poultry, or equidae being injured, wounded, or killed by a dog, not accompanied by or not under the supervision of its owner, may kill such dog.”

Iowa: “It shall be lawful for any person to kill a dog, wearing a collar with a rabies vaccination tag attached, when the dog is caught in the act of chasing, maiming or killing any domestic animal or fowl, or when such dog is attacking or attempting to bite a person.”

South Carolina:  Code of Law section 16-11-510, it is illegal to maliciously cut, wound, maim, or shoot an animal. The maximum penalty for breaking this law is up to 10 years in prison or substantial fines. 

Nebraska: Any person shall have the right to kill any dog found killing, wounding, injuring, worrying, or chasing any person or persons or any sheep or other domestic animals belonging to such person, firm, or corporation”

The Verdict on Killing Trespassing Dogs 

Unlike in the past, most states in the United States now have strict laws against killing pets or any animal unnecessarily. Like any intruder, trespassing is not enough to warrant killing or injuring them. 

The trespassing animal would need to pose danger to you or your property to kill them without facing legal repercussions. However, while the laws state you should not harm animals trespassing, it can still happen in rural areas. 

Pet Trespassing Laws by State 3 - Dr. Jeff Werber Celebrity Veterinarian Hollywood CA Blog

As a pet owner, you should keep track of your pets at all times and keep them on a leash when on walks. Additionally, if you see an aggressive dog on your property, the best choice is to wait for them to leave if possible. 


If you are worried about your pets being injured if they wander into a neighbor's yard, you likely have the law on your side. Throughout the United States, most states will only justify the killing if your pet was being overtly aggressive, displaying aggressive body language, or has a rabies tag. For responsible pet owners, this should not be a problem to be concerned with often. 

Pet Trespassing Laws by State 4 - Dr. Jeff Werber Celebrity Veterinarian Hollywood CA Blog

Visit Dr. Jeff Werber’s Instagram account (@werbs_dvm) to view and submit questions and answers on weekly AMAs – or call and leave a voicemail at 424-835-0576. Your call will be returned posthaste.

For emergencies, download Dr. Jeff Werber’s app Airvet, a video-chat option for veterinary needs at any time of day or night!