Problems with strays and nuisance animals

This page looks at problems with animals in your area and explains what you can do if dogs or other pets are causing a nuisance in your neighbourhood. It also includes information on what to do if you find a stray dog (contacting the council or dog warden), or suspect someone is being cruel to an animal.

What can I do if dogs or other pets are causing a nuisance in my area?

If your neighbours' dogs are barking or other animals are causing a nuisance in your area, there are several steps you can take to put the situation right, including:

  • keeping the animal away from your home

  • talking to the owner

  • getting help from the council and/or the police

  • taking legal action.

In Scotland laws set out what consists of animal nuisance, examples of animal nuisance include:

  • dogs that bark or howl excessively

  • animal mess in your garden or neighbourhood

  • dogs that are allowed to roam around, are dangerous or are not kept under proper control.

Keeping animals away from your home

A good way to avoid problems with other people's pets is to keep them away from you, for example, by making sure your garden is properly fenced in.

If you have a problem with cats making a mess in your garden, there are lots of products you can use to deter them, including sprays, pellets and 'scaredy-cat' plants, all of which can be bought in DIY stores and garden centres.

If you have a problem with foxes, you may be able to get help and advice from the council's environmental health department. There are also various deterrents available in DIY and garden stores, or online at websites such as Foxolutions.

If you're trying to keep animals away from you property, you mustn't do anything to injure them, such as putting down poison or throwing stones at them or fixing barbed wire or broken glass to your walls or fence to harm them. Cruelty to animals is a criminal offence, and you could receive a fine and/or a prison sentence if you're convicted.

Talking to the owner

If an animal is causing a nuisance in your area (for example, a dog is barking constantly, or roaming around on its own) it's a good idea to talk to its owner before taking any further action. Approach them politely and discuss the situation calmly, or write to them if you prefer. Our page on dealing with antisocial behaviour has lots of useful tips on how to approach your neighbours with a complaint.

The owner may not realise their pet is causing a nuisance (for example, they may not be aware that their dog barks while they're out at work) and may be happy to sort the situation out.

Bear in mind that if the problem relates to the animal's behaviour (for example, a dog that barks when left alone), the owner is unlikely to be able to sort it out over night, so give them a chance to deal with the situation before taking the matter further.

If you're not sure who owns the animal, try asking around in your neighbourhood, or checking the animal's collar. By law, all dogs should wear a collar and identifying tag when out in a public place. If you think a dog may be a stray, you should report it to the council - see 'stray dogs' below.

Getting mediation

If you feel your neighbour is being unreasonable (for example, if they refuse to keep their dog under control after you've asked them nicely), it may be worth contacting a neighbourhood mediation project. A mediator can help you negotiate with your neighbour and come to a reasonable agreement. You can find out more about mediation from the Scottish Mediation Network.

Contacting the council

If the problem persists, you can get help from the council's animal control and/or environmental health departments - the contact details should be on your council's website or in the phone book. An officer from the council can look into the situation and issue the owner with a warning notice or fixed penalty notice if they don't deal with the problem.

Contacting the police

If you or your pets are attacked by a neighbour's dog, you can report the matter to the police on 101, who can prosecute the owner. Bear in mind that if the case goes to court, the dog may be put down.

Taking legal action

If the council can't help you, or if their intervention doesn't make a difference, you can try contacting a solicitor to write a formal letter to the owner.

If this has no effect, you can take the matter to your local district court or Justice of the Peace court. These courts deal with lower level criminal offences such as breach of the peace and speeding, and are located all over Scotland. Justice of the Peace courts are gradually replacing district courts across Scotland. You can find your nearest court at the Scottish Court Service website.

You can apply to the court to take out an order against the animal's owner, requiring them to keep their pet away from you or to take other steps to sort out the problem, or even to get rid of the animal altogether. However, the court cannot order the owner to have their pet put down.

Applying to the district or Justice of the Peace court isn't expensive, and you don't need a solicitor. You'll need to fill in an application form setting out the problem, and you may have to attend a hearing, to make your case. The staff at the court can help you through the process.

If a dog or other pet has caused you injury or damaged your property, you may be able to take their owner to the sheriff court to sue for damages. A solicitor will be able to help you decide whether it's worth pursuing a claim.

What should I do if my pet is being a nuisance?

If you have received complaints about your pet, you should try and put the situation right as soon as possible. If you don't, you could face a fixed penalty notice from the council or even a court order. You may end up losing your pet if you can't keep it under control.

Some problems (such as clearing up dog mess or keeping your dog on a lead) are easily remedied, but others, such as incessant barking, can be harder to tackle. The Dogs Trust offers lots of useful information on being a responsible dog owner and dealing with difficult behaviour. It may also be useful to see what your dog gets up to during the day by researching the best pet monitor for your needs. The Cats Protection League produces useful leaflets about looking after cats and dealing with any problems.

If you lose your dog, you should contact the police and the council's animal control or environmental health department, as it may have been brought in as a stray. If it has, you'll need to pay a fee in order to get it back.

Stray dogs

If you find a stray dog you must:

  • return it to its owner (if you can trace them - their details may be on a tag attached to its collar), or

  • take the dog home, then arrange for the council's dog warden or animal control officer to come and collect it, or

  • take it to your local police station.

This is a legal requirement, and you'll be committing an offence if you don't do this, and could be fined.

You can also take the dog to your local vet, who can scan it to see if it is micro-chipped with information about its owner. The council's dog warden or animal control officer can also scan the dog to see it if is micro-chipped.

If you want to keep the dog, you should still report it to the council, so they can add its details to their register of strays. Again, this is a legal requirement. In addition, if you don't report the dog, you could be accused of stealing it. The council will probably allow you to look after the dog at home, and if its owner doesn't claim it within two months, you should be able to keep it for good.

Dog fouling

Your local council has a responsibility to keep public areas clean and free of dog mess. If you're in charge of a dog, it's an offence to let it foul in a public place (such as a pavement, road or park) so make sure you always 'scoop any poop'. If you're caught letting a dog foul without clearing up after it, the council or the police can give you a fixed penalty notice.

If there's a problem with dog fouling in your area, you should call the council's animal control or environmental health department. If they can trace the person responsible for the dog, they can issue them with a fixed penalty notice.

Pests and vermin

If you're having problems with animals such as rats, mice or squirrels, our page on pests and vermin explains what you can do.

Complaints about pet shops, kennels and stables

Pet shops, breeding and boarding kennels and riding stables all require a licence from the council. If you're concerned about noise, smells or possible cruelty in premises near you, contact your local council's environmental health or planning and licensing department.

Animal cruelty

If you look after an animal, it's against the law to treat it cruelly, cause it to suffer or neglect its needs. If you're worried about the welfare of any animals in your area, you can:

  • call the police

  • contact your local council's animal welfare department

  • contact the Scottish SPCA or another animal welfare organisation.

An officer or inspector will then investigate your complaint, and take action if necessary. For example, they may remove the animal to a safe place, and prosecute the owner. If someone is found guilty of animal cruelty, they can face a fine, imprisonment, and/or a court order banning them from keeping animals in the future.

If you need housing advice, contact us for free.

Last updated: 23 September 2017

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

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