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Is Animal Cruelty Illegal in Texas?

We typically think of criminal law protecting humans from harm. But Texas law also has animal cruelty provisions which can lead to criminal penalties for abuse of animals. Tad Nelson is an experienced Houston criminal defense attorney who can step up and represent anyone facing criminal charges. Please contact us to learn more about Texas animal cruelty laws.

Cruelty to Non-Livestock Animals

The Texas Penal Code has two sections that deal with animal cruelty. Section 42.09 criminalizes cruelty to livestock, while section 42.092 applies to non-livestock animals. Few Houstonians have livestock, so we will focus on the second.

Under this statute it is illegal to recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally do any of the following:

  • Torture an animal
  • Kill or seriously injure an animal without the owner’s consent
  • Fail to provide necessary shelter, care, food, and water
  • Unreasonably abandon an animal
  • Cause animals to fight (if they are not dogs)
  • Overburden an animal with work
  • Use animals as lures in dog races

By its plain language, the law doesn’t apply if you negligently did any of the above. For example, you might have forgotten to put a bowl of water down for your animal because you are frazzled with life issues. Because you were merely careless, you haven’t broken the law.


Most offenses are Class A misdemeanors, which under Texas law would result in up to a year in county jail. However, if you have two prior convictions for animal cruelty, then your charges get bumped up to a state jail felony. That would send you to jail for up to two years.

Some animal cruelty is automatically charged as a felony. For example, it is a state jail felony to overwork an animal or use it as a lure in a dog race. A prior conviction for animal cruelty would bump this charge to a third-degree felony, which could see you in jail for up to 10 years.

Similarly, you can face third-degree felony charges for torturing or killing an animal—even if this is your first offense. Any prior conviction for animal cruelty would result in charges getting bumped up to a second-degree felony (2-20 years in prison).

Dog Fighting

Dog fighting has its own law found at section 42.10 of the Texas Penal Code. It prohibits knowingly or intentionally causing dogs to fight or participating in any way with dog fights. Even attending a dog fight as a spectator is a crime.

Dog fighting will be charged as either a Class A misdemeanor or a state jail felony, depending on your level of participation. For example, a spectator can be charged with a misdemeanor, while someone who causes dogs to fight or allows their property to be used for that purpose faces felony charges.

Unlawful Restraint

The Texas Health and Safety Code Section 821.102 also makes it a crime to leave a dog chained up outside and unattended if you don’t provide adequate shelter, water, shade, and dry land.

This is a Class C misdemeanor offense, which can lead to a $500 fine. If you have a prior conviction under this section, then your charges get bumped up to a Class B misdemeanor, which can net a defendant up to 180 days in jail.

We Can Defend You

There are many possible defenses, such as necessity or reasonable doubt. Call Tad Nelson & Associates to learn more.