Complete Guide for Dog-Owners in New Hanover County, NC

Brad and Amy just moved to New Hanover County and are looking to introduce a new pup into their family. They moved into an apartment complex, and neither of them have owned a dog before.

All of their friends told them owning a dog would bring too much stress. But after purchasing a bed, crate, toys, and food for their new furry friend, they think they’re all set…

Owning a dog really can’t be that complicated, can it?

Yes and no.

New Hanover County is home to a wide variety of dogs, but in order to keep everyone safe — from the dogs to dog-owners to pedestrians — the county has several laws in place that new and experienced dog-owners need to be familiar with.

It can be difficult to keep track of the county pet provisions and leash laws, so we’ve created a comprehensive guide for all you New Hanover County dog-owners.

Here’s what you need to know:


If you own a puppy in New Hanover County, you need to get your pup to the vet for a rabies shot before it turns 4-months-old.

Your vet should give you a certificate that will provide the required proof of vaccination if it’s ever necessary. Make sure you keep this document in a safe place you’ll remember if you need to find it quickly when law enforcement or other authorized animal services personnel ask for it.

The vet should also give you a registration tag. Every time you take your dog outside your home, it will need to wear the tag on its collar or harness. Without the tag, authorities will consider your dog unvaccinated (which could get you into some trouble).

Keep in mind that you’ll need to renew your registration with your vet every year.

Your puppy’s first rabies shot is valid for 1 year. At the end of that year, you’ll need to get a second shot, which will be acceptable for 3 years. If your dog needs another vaccination, animal service authorities will notify you.

Just moved to Wilmington with your dog?

As long as your dog has received rabies vaccinations from a licensed veterinarian according to county requirements, you should be good to go. All you’ll need to do is get your pet registered in the county within 30 days of moving here.

If your dog hasn’t received the required rabies shots by the time you move to New Hanover County, you’ll need to get it vaccinated and registered immediately.


It’s against New Hanover County law to let your dog run “at large off the premises of its owner.” That means you can’t let your pup run around off-leash when not on your property. If you don’t follow this rule, an animal services officer can take custody of your dog.

When you are in an apartment complex like Brad and Amy, that means your dog can’t roam freely unless in your apartment or an enclosed dog park.


As mentioned above, New Hanover County leash laws require you to keep your dog securely on your property, whether with a strong leash or safe outdoor enclosure. You may not use any ropes or chains for dog restraint purposes.

If you plan to leave your dog outdoors in a pen or enclosure, the pen must be secure, 8×10 feet for dogs less than 25 pounds, and 10×10 feet for dogs over 25 pounds.

The only exceptions to these restraint rules are “organized and lawful dog functions.”

Examples of such functions include letting your pup exercise in a designated public dog park, hunting, obedience training, field and water training, law enforcement training, and work and competition in these listed legal activities.


It’s unlawful for anyone to keep a “vicious, dangerous, or fierce” animal in New Hanover County without proper restraint. But first, let’s talk about what it means for a dog to be “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous.”

Dangerous dogs include…

  • Any dog that has killed or inflicted “severe injuries” (or injuries require medical treatment more than $250) on a person without being provoked
  • Any dog trained for dog fighting or harbored with the purpose of dog fighting

Potentially dangerous dogs include…

  • Any dog that has inflicted a bite on a person, resulting in broken skin or bone or cosmetic surgery or hospitalization
  • Any dog that has killed or inflicted “severe injury” on a domestic animal when off your “real property” (any property you own or lease, not including apartment and condominium common areas
  • Any dog that has approached a person when off your “real property” in a vicious manner of attack

But who decides whether your dog is “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous”? And what happens next?

If your dog is coming into question, the New Hanover County Sheriff will appoint a 2-person committee to determine how dangerous your dog is.

If the committee decides your dog is “dangerous” or “potentially dangerous,” you’ll need to give animal services your current address, notify them of any address change (for you or the dog) within 48 hours, and follow these guidelines:

  • Never leave your dog unattended on your “real property” unless contained indoors or in a padlocked pen with a concrete bottom and secure top.
  • Post a sign on your premises with 4 clearly visible signs to warn the public of your dog
  • Never let your dog leave your “real property” unleashed or without a muzzle
  • Even if you are present with your dog, never let it roam without a muzzle if not confined
    in a safe enclosure


What’s a reasonable public nuisance complaint?

Here’s a list of dog nuisances that are prohibited in New Hanover County:

  • Dogs found unrestrained at large off your premises
  • Damages to any property that is not your own
  • Any vicious dogs
  • Acts that are offensive and dangerous to public health, safety, and welfare
  • Excessive, continuous, or untimely barking, whining, or howling
  • Dogs with a disease
  • Dogs that repeatedly chase, snap at, attack, or bark at pedestrians, bicycles, vehicles when not contained in a secure enclosure
  • Female dogs unconfined during heat
  • Dogs kept in unsanitary environments


In New Hanover County, you cannot breed dogs without first receiving a breeding permit from animal services. You must obtain your permit no later than 3 days after the birth of the litter.


In what cases may animal services take your dog into custody?

Animal services may retain dog that is…

  • Lost, stray, or unwanted
  • Found not wearing a valid, up-to-date registration tag
  • Or being treated inhumanely

In any of these circumstances, animal services must make a “reasonable effort” to notify you, the owner, of the impounding.

They will confine the dog for 5 days before you can redeem it. If you do not come to pick up the dog after those 5 days, animal services will deal with the dog as they see fit.

Remember, breaking any of these New Hanover County provisions is a Class 3 Misdemeanor, punishable by a fine up to $500.

Have more questions about your rights and responsibilities as a New Hanover County dog-owner? Reach out to the team at Mulligan Attorneys! We can help you set your pup up for success and keep your New Hanover County neighbors safe. Click here to get in touch with us, or give us a call at 910-763-1100 to schedule a free consultation.

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