The religious police, known as the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, or the Muttawa, is charged with enforcing Saudi Arabia's strict Islamic code. Its members usually ensure that unmarried men and women do not socialize, women are properly covered and men attend prayers.
Though conservative Muslims see dogs as "dirty animals," having a pedigree animal has become fashionable in the kingdom, where social life is ruled by the strict Wahhabi interpretation of Islam.
Othman al-Othman, head of the Muttawa in Riyadh, told the Saudi edition of al-Hayat daily that the ban was being enforced because men use pets to flirt with women and to "disturb families."
Prince Sattam bin Abdul Aziz, acting governor of Riyadh province, issued the decree following a recommendation previously issued by the country's council of distinguished Islamic scholars.
According to Islamic beliefs, a Muslim loses credit for one good deed each day he keeps a dog unless it is used for hunting, protection or to assist shepherds. However, the ban surprised many Muslims as the Prophet Muhammad is believed to have loved cats.
In 2006, the religious police introduced a similar ban in the Red Sea port of Jeddah and the holy city of Mecca, where some youths were buying pets and "parading them in public," a trend seen by religious police as a result of "immoral" Western influence.
Pet ownership is not restricted in any other Muslim country, though stray dogs and cats are widely considered pests. In 2005, Iranian religious police announced that people should avoid walking dogs in public, but the order did not receive legal backing and is widely ignored. Repeated offenders are however charged with "disturbing public order."