Iowa City Pet Regulations

Importance of Animal Laws

Laws protect both the public and animals in our community. The laws described here provide better health and safety for our community at large. These laws also are in place so animals, their owners, and neighbors can live together in safety and harmony. Animal Services encourages citizens with pets to take an active role in being responsible pet owners by complying with local and state animal laws.

The following list is not all-inclusive. Additional animal-related codes may be found in "Title 8: Police Regulations" of Iowa City's City Code.

Leash Law

All dogs and cats, regardless of age, must be restrained at all times on a leash not exceeding 10 feet in length and under the control of a competent person, unless confined within the owner’s property or vehicle. Citizens may obtain a permit to use the City’s designated off leash dog parks for off leash training or play. See dog park rules.

Rabies Requirement

All dogs, cats and ferrets four months of age and older, must be vaccinated against rabies. Rabies can be transmitted to humans or animals usually through a bite and puncture to the skin. Rabies is a fatal disease. Animals such as skunks, raccoons, bats, fox, dogs, and cats can spread this disease to your pet. Vaccinating your pet helps protect citizens and animals in our community. Current Rabies certificates are necessary to obtain an Iowa City license.

Aggressive Animals & Reporting Animal Bites

As a public safety agency, it is our responsibility to make sure both citizens and animals are protected. Some of our tasks are to control aggressive animals and maintain rabies vaccination information and ensure quarantining of biting animals. Animal bites can cause serious injury or illness and must be reported to Animal Services right away. Bites occurring outside of Iowa City should be reported to that area's law enforcement or health department agency. Animal service officers will investigate bite occurrences fully to ensure animals are up to date on rabies vaccinations and otherwise are quarantined appropriately.

In some cases, animal owners will be required to take corrective action to prevent future incidents. If you are involved in a bite, whether the victim, animal owner or witness, state law requires you to report the bite as soon as possible to ensure the safety of the animals and the public. Animal on animal bites should also be reported.

If You Are Bitten

Wound cleansing is especially important in rabies prevention since, in animal studies, thorough wound cleansing alone without other post exposure prophylaxis has been shown to markedly reduce the likelihood of rabies.

See Your Doctor

Since bites are a break to the skin that can cause various types of infection or disease, it is recommended that you consult with a doctor. In some cases your doctor may recommend Post-Exposure Rabies treatment.


It is illegal to abandon an animal. Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center personnel are happy to assist you should you need to surrender your animal. We understand that giving up an animal can be hard, emotional or even embarrassing for people however for the good of the animal and its future placement in a new home, it is important that staff learn as much as possible about your animal.

Welfare (Neglect & Cruelty)

Welfare laws require the adequate care of animals and are in place to protect the health and safety of animals in our community. These laws include general care and maintenance to ensure an animal’s well-being and prevent neglect or cruelty. Cruelty comes in many forms but may include; hitting kicking, blunt trauma, killing, confining animals in inadequate spaces, unsafe tethering or other forms of cruel treatment. Neglect may include; failing to provide basic needs including medical care, abandonment or placing the animal in an unsafe situation. Be a responsible citizen and report when you see or believe neglect or cruelty is happening. Animal Service officers are trained professionals and with your help we can make the difference in the life of an animal.

Animal Hoarding

Animal Hoarding is the keeping a higher-than-usual number of animals as domestic pets without having the ability to properly house or care for them, while at the same time denying this inability. Although animal hoarding can result in neglect or cruelty to animals, hoarding is now classified as a symptom to mental illness. Animal Services officers will work with these individuals in conjunction with other area agencies to prevent hoarding from re-occurring and to keep animals well cared for and safe.

Minimal Requirements for Animals

Adequate Food

Providing, at suitable intervals of not more than 24 hours if the dietary requirements of the species so require, a quantity of wholesome foodstuff, suitable for the physical condition and age of the animal, served in a clean receptacle or container, sufficient to maintain an adequate level of nutrition for such animal.

Adequate Indoor Shelter

A properly ventilated and illuminated facility, sufficiently regulated by heating or cooling to protect the animal from extremes of temperature and sufficient to provide for the animal's health and comfort.

Indoor Confinement (Crating)

An indoor crating of dogs is a common tool used for housebreaking and to maintain the animal safely in the absence of the owner. Crates should be in good condition, maintained in a good condition and adequate size to allow the animal to stand upright, lie down and easily turn around. It is neglectful and may be considered cruelty to maintain an animal in a crate without access to water at regular intervals. Maintaining animals in crates for extended periods of time without proper exercise or attention can lead to detrimental emotional and structural conditions.

Adequate Outdoor Shelter

A structurally sound and weatherproof shelter made up of three solid sides, a roof and a floor off the ground, which provides access to shade from direct sunlight and protection from exposure to weather conditions. Shelter must be of adequate size to allow the animal to stand upright, lie down and easily turn around.

Adequate Sanitation

Cleaning or sanitizing of enclosures and housing facilities to remove excreta and other waste materials and dirt so as to minimize health hazards, flies or odors is required.

Adequate Space

Primary enclosures and housing facilities constructed and maintained so as to provide sufficient space to allow each animal to make normal postural and social adjustments with adequate freedom of movement to maintain physical condition. Inadequate space may be indicated by evidence of malnutrition, poor condition, debility, stress, or abnormal behavior patterns.

Adequate Veterinary Care

A sick, diseased, or injured animal shall be provided with prompt and reasonable care by a veterinarian with a proper program of continuing care or euthanized in a manner deemed appropriate by the city.

Adequate Water

Reasonable access to a supply of clean, fresh, potable water, provided in a sanitary manner.

Poisoned Meat

Expose or permit to be exposed any poisoned meat or other poisoned substances on public or private property where the same may be removed, handled or consumed by an animal.

Animals At Large

Permit or suffer any animal under the person's control to run at large. The city shall cause such animals to be impounded in an appropriate place at the cost of the owner.


Trap or attempt to trap any animal with other than a no kill live trap deemed acceptable to the city. Excepted from this prohibition are instant kill traps for the purpose of small rodent pest control.

Disposition of Animals

Sell, offer for sale or barter any live animal without first having obtained a license as required by state law.

Animals as Prizes

Offer to give any live animal as a gift or prize for any contest or other competition, or as a business inducement or promotion.

8-4-5: Nuisances

Accumulation of Wastes

The keeping of an animal on private property in such number or in such manner that allows for the accumulation of animal waste so as to become detrimental to the public health and/or the animal's health.

Noisy Animals

No person shall cause or allow any animal under their care, charge, custody, or control to emit any noise that annoys, disturbs, offends, or unreasonably interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property of the neighborhood or general public. The provisions of this subsection shall not apply to a commercial establishment that is permitted pursuant to the zoning code.

Animals Damaging Property

Allowing an animal to cause any damage or defilement to public or private property.

Harassment by Animals

Allowing an animal to molest any human or animal on public or private property when the human or animal is lawfully on the property.

Animals Injuring or Killing Other Animals

Allowing an animal to molest or kill wildlife, birds, animals or domestic animals on public or private property.

8-4-23: Community Cats

A. A cat meeting the following requirements shall be allowed to roam freely and shall be known as a "community cat" if all the following conditions are met:

      1.   No person owns the cat;

      2.   The cat has been assessed by a veterinarian and deemed healthy;

      3.   The cat has been spayed or neutered;

      4.   The cat has been vaccinated against rabies, feline rhinotracheitis, calcivirus, and panleukopenia; and

      5.   After determining that the requirements of paragraphs 1-4 have been met, the cat has been ear-tipped by the veterinarian making the health assessment.

   B.   A community cat that creates a nuisance may be captured and impounded. For purposes of this section, "nuisance" means those acts described in Section 5 herein or as anything which interferes with the enjoyment of life or property as determined by the Chief of Police or designee.

   C.    A community cat shall be returned to the area where it was captured unless the property owner requests that the cat not be returned. After its return, reasonable attempts shall be made to revaccinate a community cat, in accordance with directions of a veterinarian.

D. The city shall have no liability for the disposition of any community cat. (Ord. 19-4803, 8-20-2019)

For a full listing of Iowa City Animal Services codes, please visit:   

Iowa City Codes