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Earlier this week, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) announced the finalization of new Animal Welfare Act (AWA) regulations.  The changes were made in an effort to promote compliance, reduce license fees, and strengthen safeguards to prevent individuals and businesses with a history of noncompliance from obtaining a license or working with regulated animals.  To better align the regulations with the humane care and treatment standards set by the AWA, the final rule also includes changes to the veterinary care and watering standards for regulated dogs.  These changes will take effect on Monday, November 9, 2020.

Click here to view the final rule in its entirety.

In August 2017, APHIS published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking to solicit comments from the public regarding potential revisions to AWA regulations.  Click here to read AKC’s October 2017 comment to USDA.  After considering the approximately 47,000 responses received, APHIS formally proposed changes to the regulations in March 2019.  Click here to read AKC’s May 2019 comment.  APHIS reports that it received approximately 110,600 comments.  Of that, only 5,200 were unique.  All others were duplicates or form letters prompted mostly by animal rights groups.

New Health and Husbandry Standards

  • APHIS will require licensees to provide dogs continuous access to potable water, unless restricted by the facility’s attending veterinarian.  This will not apply to dogs in transportation, which will instead be subject to the transportation standards, which do not necessarily require continuous access to water, but instead allow for the offering of water to dogs before, during, and after transport.
  • The veterinary care requirements for dogs will be expanded to require dealers and exhibitors to establish and maintain an adequate program of veterinary care for regulated animals, to include regularly-scheduled veterinary visits, an annual hands-on examination, and husbandry requirements to help ensure healthy eyes, skin, nails, hair, and teeth.
  • APHIS will require regularly-scheduled visits by an attending veterinarian to all premises where animals are kept to assess veterinary care and other aspects of care and use. This requirement is expected to be completed by licensees no later than one year after the effective date of these new regulations.
  • Each dealer, exhibitor, and research facility will follow an appropriate program of veterinary care for dogs that is documented and signed by an attending veterinarian, to include annual physical head-to-tail examinations for adult dogs by the attending veterinarian.  These annual examinations would be in addition to the regularly scheduled visits by the attending veterinarian.
  • Vaccinations for rabies, parvovirus, distemper, and other dangerous diseases of dogs will be required.
  • Licensees will be required to keep and maintain veterinary medical records and to make them available for inspection by APHIS.  This includes the tracking of incidents, treatments, and progress of care; and individual health trends and frequency of illnesses and injuries for the kennel as a whole.

New License-Related Requirements

  • The definition of “business hours” has been revised to mean, “a reasonable number of hours between 7AM and 7PM each week of the year, during which inspections by APHIS may be made.”  This change was made to accommodate licensees who are employed in other types of work and are not usually available for inspections during the day on Monday through Friday.
  • The new license application form will include warning language that clearly informs applicants of the consequences of providing false information, including perjury.
  • Licenses will be valid and effective for a period of three years unless certain circumstances arise. Consistent with the current regulations, a license would not be valid if it has been revoked or suspended, or if the license is voluntarily terminated upon request of the licensee.

Currently, licenses are renewed annually.  Under the new process, no license renewals will occur.  Instead, new licenses will be issued for three-year terms, and licensees will have to apply for a new license at the end of each term.

  • Licensees will be explicitly required to demonstrate compliance with all regulations and standards before any new license will be issued.
  • License fees will now be a flat $120 for the three-year license.  (This averages to $40 per year, which is the same amount as the least expensive license fee currently charged.)
  • Licensees will be required to notify Animal Care no fewer than 90 days before making any changes to the name, address, substantial control, or ownership of the business or operation, locations, activities, and number or type of animals being kept.  After the licensee demonstrates compliance under the changes and fulfills all other regulatory requirements, APHIS would issue a new license with a new certificate number.
  • Licenses will authorize increments of 50 animals on hand at any single point in time during the period of licensure.  Licensees must obtain a new license before any change that would result in more than the authorized number of animals on hand at any single point in time.  Licensees falling below the de minimis (i.e., small scale) number of animals will still be licensed and subject to the regulations unless they choose to terminate their license.  If they terminate their license then later exceed the de minimis level and continue to conduct regulated activity, they would need to apply for a new license.
  • APHIS retained the existing provision that an applicant who fails the first inspection may request up to two reinspections to demonstrate compliance, but shortened the timeframe in which the applicant must request the second inspection, and if applicable, the third inspection, to 60 days following the first inspection, instead of the existing 90-day deadline.
  • The Deputy Administrator of Animal Care may issue a temporary license that automatically expires after 120 days to an applicant whose immediately preceding three-year license has expired if the applicant submits the appropriate application form before the expiration date of the preceding license and has had a history of compliance with the AWA and regulations during the preceding period of licensure.
  • Any person who has been or is an officer, agent, or employee of a licensee whose license has been suspended or revoked and who was responsible for or participated in the activity upon which the suspension or revocation was based will not be licensed, or registered as a carrier, intermediate, handler, exhibitor, or research facility, within the period during which the order of suspension or revocation is in effect.
  • Several grounds for denying a license have been added, including failure to comply with the Act or regulations, license suspension or revocation, a no contest plea or violation of laws or regulations pertaining to animal cruelty, or false statements to USDA pertaining to animal welfare. A license may also be denied if the Administrator determines that circumstances render the applicant unfit to be licensed or if issuance of a license would be contrary to the purposes of the AWA.
  • Any licensee or registrant will be allowed to appeal inspection findings reported in an inspection report to the Deputy Administrator within 21 days of the date the licensee or registrant received the inspection report.
  • Lists of licensees, instead of only their names, will be published on APHIS’ website.  With this change, APHIS is clarifying that the list may include additional information beyond just the name of the licensee and registrant, such as the city and state where they are located and the type of license or registration that person holds.


The plan for implementing the rule includes a three-year phase-in schedule for converting the current one-year licenses to new three-year licenses based on the expiration day and month listed on the current license.  Prior to the license expiration date, USDA will notify current licensees of the month and date on which their license will need to be converted to the three-year license and licensees will need to submit an application for the new license.  Until the license is converted to the three-year schedule, the licensee must pay a $40 license fee and renew the current license for one year.  After the effective date of the rule, new applicants that demonstrate compliance with the AWA, regulations, and standards will be issued a three-year license.  This will help APHIS ensure that resources are continuously available to conduct prelicense and routine inspections.

Next Steps

Current USDA licensees, or those who may be required to be licensed at USDA, are strongly encouraged to review the changes to the AWA regulations to understand how the changes may impact their operations.

Those with questions are encouraged to contact:
Dr. Barbara Kohn, Senior Staff Veterinarian
4700 River Road
Unit 84
Riverdale, MD 20737
Phone:  (301) 851-3751

The American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Government Relations Department’s (GR) Regulatory Resources Center provides updates on AKC’s activities in addressing dog-related regulatory proposals from the U.S. federal government, all 50 states, and the District of Columbia.  For more information, contact AKC GR at