Notable regulatory amendments and COVID-19-related inspection guidelines, described below, will impact Animal Welfare Act (AWA) licensees and registrants

New rules, finalized in May, 2020, amended the long-standing licensing renewal procedures and added additional requirements for veterinary care and canine husbandry requirements.  As reported by USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the rule affects “nearly 6,000, persons who breed, sell, or exhibit animals for commercial purposes” and, in part, to USDA registrants.

The rule dismantles the annual renewal process for licensees following the initial approval of a license after the applicant proves they are in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act and related regulations.  Now, instead of an annual renewal thereafter, with regular unannounced inspections, licensees will have to prove they are in compliance every three years in order to obtain a three-year license.

A new license must be obtained upon change of ownership, location, activities, or [types or numbers of] animals.

For additional information about the amendments to the licensing requirements, see USDA’s Tech Note, “Questions and Answers: Three-Year Animal Welfare Act (AWA) License.

Also new, and applicable to licensees and registrants, dogs must have continuous access to potable water 24/7/365 days a year (with some minor, veterinary or IACUC-approved exceptions).  Specific watering systems are not required, but water must be present in bowls, receptacles or lixit faucets, with no visible contamination.

While veterinary care has always been required, such care and oversight are now more prescribed.  As described in Tech Note, “Questions and Answers: Access to Potable Water for Dogs and Cats,” facilities that breed or house dogs, requirements include:

For facilities with dogs, written formal arrangements must be made and signed by the Attending Veterinarian that includes the following; regularly scheduled annual visits, complete physical annual exams of each dog by the Attending Veterinarian, a schedule for vaccinations for contagious and/or deadly diseases of dogs (including rabies, parvovirus and distemper), a schedule for sampling and treatment of parasites and other pests (including fleas, worms, coccidia, giardia, and heartworm), and preventative care and treatment for healthy hair coats, nails, eyes, ears, skin, and teeth. Lastly, the written program of veterinary care must address the requirements for adequate veterinary care for every dealer and exhibitor in § 2.40 of this subchapter and every research facility in § 2.33 of this subchapter. A signed copy of the written program of veterinary care should be kept at the licensed or registered facility.

All licensees and registrants subject to AWA-related USDA inspections should review the “Standard Operating Procedures for Resuming Facility Inspections During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” issued on July 20, 2020.


For anyone concerned about protecting the privacy of their facility, be prepared to provide the inspector with “a clean and safe space (i.e., recently sanitized, able to maintain 6ft distance from others)” where the inspector can review hard-copy records and upon completion of the inspection report, return those records.

The alternatives described in the SOP in which records are provided to the inspector through online access or thumb drives that are viewed on the inspector’s laptop, should be carefully considered in light of the potential for those documents to be requested through open public records laws.

Inspections will be conducted using a tiered approach starting with facilities subject to high frequency inspections and new license applicants.

If an inspection cannot be conducted or completed because of COVID-19 related concerns, the report is supposed to record such concerns.  It is not clear how that information will be construed by activists opposed to the ownership and use of animals in those facilities.

Naturally, the health and safety of people and animals at the facility and of the inspectors is of paramount importance.