Maximum sentence for people who abuse animals being increased to five years
People who abuse animals will now face up to five years in prison under a tough new crackdown.
Environment Secretary Michael Gove said the ten-fold increase in the present six-month sentence was needed to combat cruelty.
The move comes after a series of cases in which courts said they would have liked to impose tougher sentences if they had the option.
These include instances when a man bought a number of puppies just to brutally and systematically beat, choke and stab them to death.
The new legislation will also enable courts to deal more effectively with ruthless gangs involved in organised dog fights, the Environment Department said.
Mr Gove said: "We are a nation of animal lovers and so we must ensure that those who commit the most shocking cruelty towards animals face suitably tough punishments.
"These plans will give courts the tools they have requested to deal with the most abhorrent acts.
"This is one part of our plan to deliver world-leading standards of animal welfare in the years ahead."
Under the government's plans, courts will retain the ability to hand out an unlimited fine and ban an offender from owning animals in the future, but they will also have the ability to sentence the worst cases more harshly.
The move will bring maximum sentences for animal cruelty in England into line with Australia, Canada, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The RSPCA's David Bowles said: "We are thrilled that the Government has responded to calls from the RSPCA and members of the public to toughen up sentences for the worst animal abusers.
"We now feel that those who commit these acts will soon be receiving sentences that reflect the seriousness of their crime and hope this will act as a real deterrent against cruelty and neglect.
"The RSPCA picks up the pieces of animal cruelty every day of the year.
"Our inspectors regularly rescue animals from horrific circumstances of mistreatment, brutality and neglect.
"It is only through the prosecutions that we take that many of the perpetrators are brought to justice.
"The strength of feeling behind a move to toughen up these sentences is huge - but at the moment the courts are limited by the law under which the strongest sentence for animal cruelty is six months' imprisonment and an unlimited fine - but this rarely happens.
"Michael Gove's promise to bring sentences in line with Northern Ireland - which has a maximum of five years' imprisonment - should help to deter people from abusing and neglecting animals, and will finally mean that the sentence fits the crime."