Codes of welfare

Find out about codes of welfare, their relationship to the Animal Welfare Act 1999, and how they help improve animal management and care.

Codes of welfare may change

Changes to the Animal Welfare Act in 2015 expanded on the ability to make regulations under the Act. A first set of regulations made under the new provisions came into force in August 2016. The next set came into force in October 2018, and more are planned.

As regulations come into force, we'll amend codes of welfare to align minimum standards with the regulations. Although we will include relevant regulations in the codes, there may be other regulations that are relevant to you. Check the full list of animal welfare regulations where appropriate.

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Codes form part of the Animal Welfare Act

Owners or people in charge of animals must comply with the:

  • Animal Welfare Act 1999
  • minimum standards for animal care and management in codes of welfare.

The codes are separate from the Act because with so many different types of animals and situations, it is impractical to include them all in the Act – it would make for lengthy and unwieldy legislation.

Using the codes

More than one code of welfare might be relevant for a particular situation. For example, when transporting sheep, both the sheep and beef cattle code of welfare, and the transport within New Zealand code of welfare apply.

Codes of welfare also have recommended best practices. These recommendations set out standards of care and conduct, over and above the minimum required to meet the obligations in the Act. They are included to encourage higher standards of animal welfare.


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.

The codes are flexible enough to be modified and improved as community expectations, good practice, scientific knowledge and technical advances allow. In the future, codes of welfare will be complemented by regulations to broaden enforcement powers.

Codes of welfare replace the 'Codes of recommendations and minimum standards', which were issued under the previous law. The only codes of recommendations and minimum standards that still apply are for deer velveting, and for ostriches and emus.

Animal sentience

The National Animal Welfare Advisory Committee (NAWAC) acknowledges the official recognition of animal sentience within the Animal Welfare Act in 2015. Sentience is the ability to perceive or feel things. The understanding that animals are sentient has always been integral to NAWAC's development of the codes of welfare and the minimum standards contained within them. With sentience now formally recognised within the Act, NAWAC will continue to integrate the concept of animal sentience into future codes and standards as they are developed and reviewed. 

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Who to contact

If you have questions about the codes, email

To report cases of animal ill-treatment or cruelty call 0800 00 83 33 (Select option 2 from the menu).

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