APA Recommendations

Things to Consider Before Filming with Animals:

It is our policy to take things individually on a case by case basis, we realize there are many variables and we strive to be collaborative in our safety efforts. There are some things that are not negotiable because there are laws we must work within. We hope these suggestions are helpful in planning your productions. These suggestions are also subject to change based on necessity or situations that may arise without former knowledge.

Laws That May Apply When Working With Non-Domestic Species:

As of Jan 2, 2005, the State of California has deemed illegal any declawing of wild or exotic cats. It further states that an animal may not be transported to another state for declawing and then return to work in California. If an animal has been declawed before the ban, they may continue to work on set; however, paperwork to show this is the case should be made available. In such a case, the animal should show no sign of discomfort or lameness due to the prior declawing.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) also has a regulation stating that primate or exotic and wild (indigenous) animals may not be declawed or defanged as of August 2006.

Migratory Bird Treaty Act: Under this law the taking, killing or possessing migratory birds is unlawful unless permitted by written regulations.  It is unlawful to take, possess or transport any migratory insectivorous bird or migratory non game bird.

Cock-fighting is illegal in most states and the use of cock-fighting paraphernalia is also illegal. Scenes must be simulated but the birds are not allowed to even make contact due to the perception.

APA advises that open dialogue always be strived for in the best interest of the production and the safety of the animals. We recognize that every scene should be looked at individually and advise that the best practices to achieve the objective should be used.

General Principles For Wildlife:

Primates, in particular, apes, working on set are a controversial topic among many animal rights activists. The reasons for this include; past inappropriate training methods, lack of retirement facilities for apes once they are not hand-able (which generally occurs between 8-10 years of age) and the removal of babies from their mothers at an early age. We would recommend fully researching this topic and diligence before considering these particular species.

Elephants are another controversial species for use in film. We believe if they are humanely handled and trained, elephants enjoy working with people. The use of bull hooks (or ankus) is prohibited in some cities and states. It is our belief that bull hooks are simply tools, such as bridles, reins, leashes, collars and dressage whips and their use is not inherently cruel. Most often, they are used as a guide for a smaller mammal (a person) to tell a larger animal (an elephant) what it is they want them to do. Bull hooks must be used humanely at all times.

The use of harsh training methods such as electric shock collars or electric devices is prohibited.

Non-domestic animals are highly sensitive, working with them requires a production to pay particular attention to their needs and safety for all involved is paramount.

Pay attention to the instructions given by the trainers. There should be minimal people on set when the animals actually work.

Care should be taken to keep loud noises, bright lights and excessive movement to a minimum. These things can be stressful for non-domesticated animals while on set. Typically, a Closed Set is the best way to accomplish it.

Sufficient prep should be given and the animals should not be rushed to perform. Oftentimes they simply need time to settle in and get comfortable, pushing them past this limit is not advised.

Certain City, State and Federal permits may be needed to work with exotic or wild animals. This is the responsibility of production to make sure these proper permits are in place.

There are also federal laws that exist in working with certain native species, which may be prohibited (for instance; working with Golden eagles). Please contact us for specifics.

It is advisable to check USDA licensing and research potential trainers for violations under their permits before hiring. Please do your own research, to maintain partiality, we do not recommend trainers.

When potentially dangerous animals are working on set, there should be an emergency plan which should be discussed before filming begins, safety meetings with cast and crew and all others involved are paramount in accomplishing this.

All animals used should be of good health and weight, excessively thin or animals in poor health will not be considered fit for filming purposes. This includes non-domestic animals.

Adequate caging is required for all animals on set. Sufficient water, resting area and shelter must be given.

Indigenous wildlife, present at locations, cannot be moved or manipulated for filming. If planning to film native wildlife in natural settings, production should be prepared to be patient to capture the necessary action. They should not be manipulated, scared or in any way change their natural behavior for filming purposes. Wildlife also cannot be moved if “in the way” such as bird nests, noisy birds, etc. A snake wrangler should be present to safely remove (and release) any snakes found on or near the set.

Releasing wildlife may require pertinent permits as well as the animals being sufficiently prepared to survive on their own. It is not acceptable to simple release pen-raised birds for filming that are not equipped to survive outside of their cages. Certain wildlife, including those considered invasive (non-native) may not be released. Please check with Fish & Wildlife as well as APA before considering such scenes.

Planning and preparation before filming are important to the success of a day of filming with animals. In this section, you will find important information to help plan and prepare for filming with animals.


APA recommends that productions hire professional movie animal handlers.  Private party animals can be used in some instances, but in general, professional animal handlers have the experience and knowledge of the film industry and the animals in their care. This simple step can save a production a lot of heartache. If private party animals are used, a professional trainer should be coordinating.

All animal handlers should be licensed through all governing agencies required to own and exhibit the animals they are working on set.

The animals should be provided adequate rest periods during the filming day.

Length of time animals may be used or the amount of rest periods require will depend on many factors; including weather, sufficient prep and condition of the animal, animal action and number of takes necessary.  Special care will need to be taken when excessive heat, cold, high winds or storms are in effect.

Some action requires extra care: such as stunts, animals wearing costumes or make-up, animals that are normally adversaries (such as rabbits and dogs) should be reviewed before filming to ensure the safety and comfort of the animals used.

If it is necessary to use taxidermy animals or animal parts, proper documentation may be required that show such animals were not killed for use on the production.  Productions should obtain dead animals from a reputable source.

Productions must provide adequate housing for animals.

APA’s Animal Safety Consultants should be granted access to all temporary off-set and on-set housing.


Horses have historically been (and remain) the animals most at risk on set. This is due to many different factors. Oftentimes the action they are required to do is intense, such as; racing, pulling wagons, performing stunt falls, being ridden at a gallop and being handled by those who may be inexperienced as riders. APA suggests hiring only professional wranglers, stunt riders and actors who are competent riders and plenty of planning when intense action is required.

All horses must be properly shod for the action they are required to do. Barefoot horses may be used under some circumstances.

Horses should have access to shelter, water and rest periods throughout the day.

Horses should not be tied by the reins; a secure halter should be used instead.

In addition, they should be tied to a solid object (properly secured to the ground) with a slip knot that is easily un-done for safety purposes.

It is sometimes common for cast & crew to enjoy riding and consider a day working with horses as their opportunity to do so. Horses should not be ridden by crew or cast in any way that is not necessary and excess running and “horse play” in addition to the required action, should not be occurring.

Stallions may be used, but should only be handled by competent and experienced handlers. Geldings are preferred on set but not required.

An animal that requires tranquilization on set is an animal that should not be there. Drugging horses can be dangerous for handlers, cast and crew and the horses themselves. This should not be considered unless an emergency arises.


Horseback riding is considered an inherently risky activity; it can result in injury, both serious and permanent, including death. Safety is of the utmost importance. Many people overestimate their riding abilities and this can cause serious problems. It is the responsibility of the wrangler, the production company and the APA consultant to be sure the person riding is of at least, minimum competency. This often requires riding lessons in order to achieve such competency.

Using wranglers as stunt doubles or back-up riders greatly diminishes this concern. This should be done wherever possible.

Inexperienced riders are often “heavy-handed” pulling, yanking and being excessively rough with the reins, and the horse’s sensitive mouth. This should not be permitted. Mild snaffle bits are preferred whenever possible.

Horses are easily tripped by wires, cables, uneven ground, holes and other obstacles in their path. Routes where horses are used should be free of all things mentioned.

Horses should be trained and accustomed to the style or type of riding required on camera. In other words, if a scene calls for jumping, a hunter-jumper type horse should be used. If it requires working with cattle, cutting horses would be best.


There should be collaboration between wranglers, trainers, APA Safety Consultants and production well before a stunt is executed. Stunts may include: riding at a high speed with other horses, horse falls, pulling a large wagon, racing scenes, trick riding or horses at liberty. The idea is to have the stunt well-planned so that it may only need to be done once or at least, minimally. Sufficient planning, open discussions and having all involved be in agreement with planned action is key.

Horses should not drag ropes long enough to trip over, fatalities have occurred when horses have stepped on long ropes and fallen.

The use of blanks in guns can cause damage and discomfort when used close to the horse’s head. Quarter-loads should be used and the gun should never be fired directly at, or near the horse’s head.

All props such as knives, sabers, or swords should be made of rubber or balsa wood for safety.

Horses should always be sufficiently trained and well-prepped for any stunts done on set. Safety meetings should always be held before a stunt and involve all relevant personnel, including APA Animal Safety Consultants.

Rodeo scenes should be simulated. Although there are some events that are not considered extreme action (barrel racing) much of the action in rodeo events involves some risk and should be discussed with wranglers and APA well in advance. It is advisable to film actual rodeo scenes at sanctioned rodeos rather than try to re-create such action. Be advised that some rodeo action is considered cruel to animals by many people, such as calf roping, steer wrestling and bronc riding.

Horses should be sufficiently trained to do such action as laying down, rears and falls. These actions should never be manipulated or wrangled to get the action.

Horse falls are considered extreme action and horses should not be required to do it more than once. The ground should be sufficiently prepped and soft for such falls. Peat moss and sand are appropriate substances to prepare the ground. Rocks and other hard objects should be removed. The speed of the horse leading up to the fall should be considered. In general, the faster a horse is moving, the harder he will fall. Horses should only be traveling at the minimum speed necessary to achieve the action required.

Stampede scenes require a lot of prep and discussion. The ground should be free of rocks, holes and other dangerous objects. Cables and overhead obstructions should be removed. The route should be prepped at slow speeds to allow the animals to become accustomed to it. Adequate wranglers on either end of the route should be utilized.

For horse racing scenes, it is recommended that horses trained for movie work, instead of actual racehorses, be used. Racing scenes should be simulated. Horses should be sufficiently prepped to stand in starting gates and have sufficient training to stop on the track if asked. Actual racehorses are rarely appropriate for such scenes, lacking these basic training safety procedures.

Horse racing scenes should utilize sufficient outriders, mounted spotters and the use of camera car or insert vehicles on the track with performing horses should be avoided when possible.

Sufficient cooling methods should be prepared for use during hot weather and intense running or stunt work with horses, including hoses for rinsing off horses and ice where appropriate.

Horses used must be Sound for the action required. Lame horses are not appropriate for use on set.

A veterinarian should be on set for all intense action scenes, including but not limited to; stampedes, racing scenes, rodeo scenes, etc. Please consider while working on location that a vet may be hours away.

Pregnant animals should never be used for filming unless the scene calls for a birthing scene and in that case, it must happen naturally and be discussed with APA and all relevant parties well in advance.

All training tools, including the use of whips must be used humanely. Excessive whip use will be considered inhumane.

When filming with carts, wagons, stagecoaches or other such conveyances, horses should be sufficiently trained and prepped for the action required. Wranglers should be driving the teams whenever possible. When speed is involved with such action, this should be considered intense action and handled as such by APA and wranglers involved.

Whipping of horses is not permitted. If whips are to be carried, such action must be simulated only.

Cast and crew should take care not to approach any wagon or conveyance without permission. Horses wearing blinders while harnessed can be easily startled. There is few things more terrifying or dangerous then a bolting horse attached to a vehicle with wheels.

If horses must perform intense action while harnessed (such as galloping, breakaway teams or wagons etc.) there must be safety meetings with all involved before such scenes are filmed.

Water crossings pose many dangers to harnessed animals. Water crossings should be considered intense action and discussion with APA is recommended during the planning stages for such scenes. Horses have been killed during such scenes, so there are many factors to consider before this action is considered safe, sufficiently prepped and ready for filming.

Camera Cars/Russian Arm: Due to horses’ unpredictable nature, there is often great risk in using camera cars with horses. Always work together with your APA consultant beforehand, as every situation is unique. We recommend the following guidelines:
Camera cars (or any vehicles) shall Never work head on, traveling in different directions. This type of action poses the biggest threat and is not allowed.
Following horses or working behind horses, camera cars (or any vehicles) shall stay a minimum of 200 feet from the animals. If going at speed, i.e. a gallop, that distance will be 300 feet.
When working side by side going the same direction, there shall be a minimum of 50 feet, which includes the camera arm, between horses and vehicle. There should be a taped route in order for both horse & rider and vehicle driver to follow.

Intense horse scenes should be properly prepared with everyone involved (full crew) on set, rehearsals ranging from walk through to ¼ speed to full speed.


Reality shows pose their own significant challenges. Oftentimes the action is unscripted, making it difficult to sufficiently prepare the animals for filming. Generally though, despite how “spontaneous” the action appears on film, time should be taken to be sure the animals are considered before the cameras roll.

Whenever possible, action to be shot should be rehearsed. APA should be involved, particularly where there might be a live audience, live band, flashing lights, etc. It is suggested that care is taken to minimize the loud noises as much as possible.

As in every situation, the animals should know what to expect. If they become frightened or aggressive, they should be removed from set. All animals should be safely contained while working, (i.e. caged, on leashes, halters, etc.)

It should be understood by everyone involved in the production that if necessary, animal trainers are allowed to step in for safety purposes. There should be a plan in place for any escaped animal. Filming should come to a complete halt if this occurs.

Excess handling by cast and crew is discouraged. For many animals, simply the transport, preparation and shoot itself is enough to tire them.

Safety meetings including all who are involved, including APA consultants should happen before any filming occurs. Animals should not be brought to set until all is in place for filming. They should not be used as “stand-ins”.

Food should not be brought to set or be eaten around animals while on set. Typically, minimal crew is always ideal.


Dogs are truly man’s best friend. There is no animal on the planet that has an innate desire to please people like a dog has. They enjoy working and can be very rewarding to have on set. However, there are a number of pertinent laws you should be aware of as well as special considerations for our companion animals. Please consider the following suggestions.

Puppies must be a minimum of 8 weeks old to transport and use for commerce. We prefer that puppies and kittens be at least 9 weeks and have two vaccines before working. Waiting until  the animal is 10-12 weeks is preferable but not strictly enforced. This is a current federal law and USDA requirement. Puppies younger than 8 weeks will not be allowed to be transported or used for filming. This recommendation is up to our discretion. Professional companies and trainers are recommended here. We will be more amenable to younger puppies if we are working with known, trusted trainers. All puppy safety protocol, such as keeping different litters separate, minimal handling except for actors when needed and documentation of ages will be enforced.

All dogs’ should have pertinent vaccinations and documentation may be required.

USDA exhibitor’s license is required for all those using dogs for commerce.

Dogs should be sufficiently prepped for the action required on set. They should be prepped to work together if situation calls for them to do so. Any signs of aggression should be considered inappropriate and dog should not continue working on set.

All dogs’ should have adequate rest throughout the day. They should be sufficiently crate-trained to accomplish this. Dogs, despite their nature, need downtime while on set and should have time away from people in order to accomplish this if needed.

As with all animals used on set, extreme temperatures may require extra care. In particular, dog’s paws are vulnerable to extreme heat or cold. Booties, paw wax or alternate scheduling should be considered in extreme heat or cold weather.


Cats are very different animals then our friends, the dog. They are independent and typically work best for food motivation. They are often skittish on set and care should be taken to keep their nature in mind while working with them.

Cats should have appropriate room in their crates for food, water, litter and rest.

Working cats outside without a harness can be challenging. Cats should be sufficiently prepped for this action and it is recommended that there always be a plan to contain them within the area for safe filming. Harnesses can help with this but cats should be accustomed to wearing them.

Cats should be of good weight and health to be considered for filming purposes.

Snarls and other displays of “aggression” should be sufficiently trained and not over-used on set.

Noise should be kept to a minimum on set. Cats are easily startled and may run off if frightened. They can climb and hide in very small spaces and sound stages can be difficult to navigate if an animal decides to do so. Please consider this when working with cats on set.


Birds can be separated by groups such as caged birds, flocks of birds and wild birds. There may be pertinent laws in regards to certain species of bird that cannot be used for filming purposes (such as protected species like the Golden Eagle or other native birds). Please check with us before filming.

Cock-fighting, and all of the paraphernalia associated with it, is illegal in all 50 states. Even simulating cockfighting can be an issue. Please check with APA for the best way to proceed while attempting to film scenes involving birds (or any animals) fighting.

Care should be taken that caged birds not be subject to dry ice, smoke effects or other inhalants while on set. Birds have air sacs for breathing, not lungs and they are extremely sensitive to such special effects.

Caged birds should not be stacked upon one another unless there are dividers between caging.

Care should be taken with flocks of birds (such as pigeons, doves etc.) to ensure there are no natural predators around before releasing them.

All birds scheduled to be released should be of the homing-type. They should be banded and prepped sufficiently to return safely home. They should also not be released late in the afternoon but at least three hours before sundown.

Tethers should not be used in the case of passerines (smaller bird species). If tethers are to be used, the birds must be sufficiently trained before using them. Monofilament should not be attached directly to the leg but instead to a type of jess that is wide and comfortably placed on the leg of the bird.

Birds are easily chilled in rainy or windy weather. It is advised not to subject birds to these conditions.

Glass panes, windows and other clear barriers should not be used around loose birds. They are easily confused by such surfaces and will injure or kill themselves trying to get through them.


The use of costumes on animals should be sufficiently prepped. The animals should not have restricted breathing, ease of movement or eyesight. Care should be taken to ensure animals do not overheat as well.

All use of make-up or other “painted” substances should be natural-based and not toxic.

Balsa-wood, breakaway glass, rubber sabers and knives should be used when working with animals for safety purposes. Spurs while riding should only be used by those who are competent in their use while riding, spurs should be dull and not sharp. If a rider is excessively spurring or not able to control them while riding, rubber spurs should be considered.

Please be sure to check that the location for filming is free of glass, sharp objects, holes that may cause problems with footing, etc.

The use of gunfire can cause considerable fear and discomfort for animals while filming if care is not taken. Best practices for industry filming require that all gunfire use around animals (and crew) should be ¼ loads. There are many factors to consider while using gunfire on set. Animals should be as far away from the sound as possible. They must be sufficient prepped and gunfire and other loud noises should be used minimally. It is best if the gunfire sounds be simulated if at all possible.

Even when using ¼ loads or “blanks” it is not acceptable to point a gun directly at an animal at close range.

Squibs should also be strategically placed for safe use around animals. Any explosions should be minimal and performed away from the animal. Animals should be sufficiently prepped around explosions and not be excessively frightened by them. Scaring animals on set to achieve the desired shot is not ethical.

Open pits of fire or the use of torches should only be used around animals sufficiently prepped to work around them. In particular, animals with long tails or hair should be not be loose around any open flame for safety purposes.

Wind machines can be used but care should be taken to ensure that dust or other debris not be inhaled or cause such debris to get into animals sensitive eyes. As always, animals should be sufficiently prepped for such action.

Mortars have a debris field that can be dangerous. Animals should be sufficiently distanced from these explosions. In addition, only smooth contents should be used when building or preparing mortars.


When using any type of moving vehicle or camera mount on a moving vehicle, a Risk Assessment should be performed before filming to ensure all safety elements are identified.

Camera Vehicles must maintain a safe speed and safe distance, depending on surface and conditions, which will allow the driver of the vehicle to stay in control and react quickly to a change in conditions or the location of the animal.

A safety meeting should occur between all pertinent parties and all should be in agreement   before proceeding.

Rain, snow, mud and ice can all cause changes to safe driving conditions and decreased braking ability. Routes should be sufficiently wet-down to keep dust down so that visibility is always fully achieved.

Safe distances and speed must be set based on numerous factors, including the species of animal used, the animal action, the type of vehicle used, as well as terrain and climatic conditions.

All animals must be trained and acclimated to these vehicles, and all rehearsals must be conducted at slow speeds, gradually building to the desired speed required for filming.

Safe areas or bail out areas must be available along the route of filming should there be a need to abort the action.

Vehicles should never track directly toward or behind an animal.  Animals can be unpredictable and suddenly stop or change course. Vehicles following too closely can be hazardous in these situations.

An adequate number of spotters should be in place along the route of travel and they should have the ability to communicate any potential hazards.  A spotter should also ride on or in the insert vehicle whenever possible.

Animals should never be boxed in using multiple camera cars. It is advisable to shoot one moving vehicle at a time when working with animals for safety.


Despite claims to the contrary, fish do feel pain and stress. Fish can be some of the most misunderstood creatures on set. Oftentimes they are obtained by the Props department, and there is no professional aquarist on set. This is not recommended for various reasons. Please consider the following suggestions when using fish.

When setting up aquariums, please use professional aquarists. Salinity, oxygenation, ph levels and other considerations are key to keeping fish healthy and safe.

Fish can be used very briefly, out of the water. The species used for such filming should be hardy species. Fish should not be kept out of water for more than 20 seconds at a time. Fish should be rotated for such scenes and not used more than twice individually.

Loss of electricity on set has been detrimental for many fish over the years in our experience. Please remember to keep on all pertinent power to assure that the filtration systems can work adequately. It is recommended that back-up generators also be utilized.

Fish should not be hooked for scenes. All fishing scenes should be simulated.

When working in natural lakes or other bodies of water, local rules and laws may apply. Please check with the appropriate authorities before doing so.

Tropical and saltwater fish are particularly delicate. Please be sure to use professionals when working with these type of fish. They require special care, set-up and maintenance.

Productions should be aware that adding props or any other objects to tanks, pools or other bodies or water can change the pH and may cause harm to fish. Any changes to the existing bodies of water already set up should be discussed beforehand.


No animal (or insect) may be killed simply for the purposes of filming.

Please use a professional insect wrangler, who specializes in such creatures, they are masters at getting the shot and keeping, collecting and handling the insects.

Insects may be sensitive to certain substances, such as fog, dry ice, smoke and other inhalants. Please keep this in mind when working with insects.


APA recommends only professional animal handlers be used for any reptiles or amphibians while on set. Care and handling of such delicate creatures is species-specific and complex.

Dry ice or special effect fog may not be used. These inhalants are typically dangerous around such animals. Chemicals are also toxic and care should be used not to have them around the animals.

If water is to be used for amphibians, it should be clean, free of chemicals and the animals should be easily caught between takes with a minimum amount of stress. Frogs or other reptiles/amphibians are not props and should be handled or considered such for filming purposes.

Warming or cooling animals for filming purposes can only be done when absolutely necessary and only by experienced professionals.

Rattlesnakes and other snakes may not be killed if found on location. APA recommends a professional snake wrangler be on set at all times to remove and re-release the animals at a suitable location.

Please contact us with any questions or comments you have in regards to our Things to Consider for Filming with Animals document. It is a living document and may be subject to additions, changes and revisions. Careful planning while in the pre-production phase of filming is always recommended. Please consider having APA with you in all stages of filming to ensure both safety of the animals and perception issues with the public.