What Is The 28-Hour Law?

Lisa JacksonSeptember 14, 2022

The "28-Hour Law" is regarded as one of the most fundamental laws concerning the transport of animals.

In accordance with the 28-Hour Law, animals transported from one state to another must be unloaded at least every 28 hours so they can rest, drink water, and eat.

Railroad transportation of livestock was not regulated by federal law in the late 1800s. It was for this reason that the Twenty-Eight Hour Law was established. Cows and other agricultural animals were moved by the railroad during this time to distant locations. This is problematic because the animals were abused and possibly put in danger of death. Yet, it was not considered an offense against animals' rights. 

Public awareness of animals' conditions and suffering during transportation first surfaced in the United States in the 1860s. Because of the animals' cruel treatment and significant danger of health issues. The Twenty-Eight Hour Law was enacted into federal law by Congress in 1873.

28-Hour Law Exceptions And Extensions

Despite the straightforward nature of the 28-Hour Law, some exceptions exist.

  • The 28-Hour Law does not apply to air and water transport.
  • If the carrier gives the animal access to food, water, and enough room to rest, the 28-Hour Law is not applicable to those modes of transportation.
  • If the 28-hour period ends at night, sheep can be transported in a carrier for an additional 8 hours.
  • When an animal cannot be unloaded because of "accidental or unforeseen circumstances that could not have been predicted or prevented when being careful," they may be kept for longer than 28 hours.
  • The 28-hour period can be extended to 36 hours when the animal's owner requests to extend it in a separate, written document.


  • Prevents the transportation of livestock by "rail carrier, express carrier, or common carrier" continuously for more than 28 hours without being unloaded for five hours of rest, drink, and food (except while traveling by air or water)."
  • Provides general guidelines for feeding and watering animals.

Objective Of Law

Congress passed this law in order to eliminate animal cruelty. This is why the law has been improved to provide enough animal safety. The law in 1873 solely applied to railroad transport. However, since 1994, the regulation has applied to all forms of transportation, with the limitation on air and water.

Impact Of Animal Protection Laws

In the late 1800s, earlier animal protection laws became known in Great Britain. A variety of organizations created within the community widened the scope of animal protection laws. The laws were then spread out and became models for the rest of the world, including America. Since then, America has started enacting anti-cruelty laws. Therefore, animal protection laws also contributed to the improvement of domestic laws. 

It was most often religious people who supported laws protecting animals. Because religious people are pro-equality and anti-cruelty, they were willing to stand up for others.

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